Illinois Public Media News
Members of Governor Pat Quinn's s commission on reform found support for change --- but not agreement on all the details --- at a town hall meeting that drew about 45 people to the law school at the University of Illinois Urbana campus on Monday.
The 15-member Reform Commission last week called for capping campaign contributions at 5 to 50-thousand dollars for political organizations, corporations and unions ... and 24-hundred dollars for individuals. Donations from lobbyists and trusts would be banned outright.
At the town hall meeting, U of I law student Mike Wilson had doubts. He thinks campaign contribution limits would favor candidates who already have money. "Don't contribution limits encourage the rich to run for and dominate elections", he asked, "especially elections for state legislatures, where individuals have a limited number of contributors, due to a small amount of people in a given district?" He likened the result to a "millionaire's club".
Reform Commission Chairman --- and former federal prosecutor --- Patrick Collins said Wilson made a good point. He suggested that the ultimate solution may lie with another commission proposal --- public financing of campaigns.. "The only way to counter balance the millionaire's club," said Collins, "is to give folks a public stipend, where they're owned by the people in five-dollar chunks, rather than owned by the 25-thousand-dollar-a-year givers."
In its preliminary proposals last week, the Reform Commission suggested trying campaign financing on a trial basis for judicial candidates only.
In addition to Collins, members of the Reform Commission at the town hall meeting included City of Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman and the Reverend Scott Willis. The Baptist minister who moved from Illinois to Tennessee in 2004 feels the impact of Illinois' corruption scandals in a searingly personal way. In 1994, the gas tank on his van exploded when it was struck by a mudflap bracket that fell off a truck on I-94 in northern Illinois. The expolosion killed six of Willis' children. A federal investigation into corruption in the office of then-Secretary of State George Ryan found that the driver of the truck paid a bribe to obtain his license.
When asked about the political factors underlying his personal tragedy, the Reverend Willis paused for several seconds. Finally, he said it came down to money, and the willingness of some in state government to hand out favors --- such as an undeserved truck driver's license --- for campaign contributions. Illinois state employees now take annual ethics training, but not until they've been on the job six months. Willis says by then it's often too late. "By that time, the ethics test doesn't really mean anything", he says, "because they've already learned the ropes of how things have been going on before. And money's a big part of that --- fund raising within the different departments and so on. So if anything, it's the love of money --- I'm a preacher --- it's the love of money, and the need of money to be able to get power."
The first round of recommendations from the Illinois Reform Commission calls for training state workers on ethics in their first month of employment, instead of the sixth.
Chairman Collins says their recommendations will need public support to win approval from lawmakers. Legislative leaders have set up their own joint committee to study reform, and Collins says his commission has been invited to address the legislative panel.
Officials at Archer Daniels Midland's massive Decatur ethanol plant are showing off an 84 million dollar project to study a way to keep more carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere.
ADM is the first of seven sites around the nation to begin the process of storing more than a million tons of CO2 deep underground rather than letting it escape into the air. Researchers point to CO2 as a key factor in global warming.
Illinois State Geological Survey director Robert Finley says the experiment is beginning with a test well dug more than a mile into the rock formations under the plant to see how well it can handle the injected gas.
"With a relatively pure source of CO2 coming from ADM's ethanol fermentation facility here in Decatur combined with excellent geology suitable for testing carbon sequestration immediately below the Decatur area and in fact throughout central Illinois, that gives us an opportunity to carry out this test here at Decatur," Finley said.
It'll be another year before ADM will actually inject large amounts of CO2. Finley believes the Illinois Basin can hold many times more carbon dioxide than ADM, the proposed FutureGen coal plant and other industries in central Illinois can produce.
The 75-page indictment handed down Thursday against former Governor Rod Blagojevich and five co-defendants made fascinating reading for a University of Illinois law professor. Andrew Leipold is an expert on criminal law and the federal judicial process. He told AM 580's Jim Meadows that the indictment alleges a conspiracy to defraud people and extort money --- dating back to the very start of the Blagojevich administration.
The Illinois House voted today to overhaul management of state pension boards after the scandals of the Blagojevich administration. The measure was sent to the Senate on a 116-1 vote.
The bill calls for dumping the directors of four pension funds. And it calls for stricter ethics laws for all pension boards in the state. Investment advisers would be chosen through competitive bidding.
The purge applies to the Teachers' Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, the State Employees Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment.
The teachers pension board was involved in one of the scandals under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A Blagojevich friend conspired with one of his board appointees to demand kickbacks from companies wanting to do business with the pension fund.
People in Champaign-Urbana get their chance over the next week to offer opinions about downtown Champaign's cultural offerings and how they can improve.
The cultural group known as 40 North 88 West is wants to form a cultural arts district. Its director of operations, Steven Bentz, says downtown Champaign already has lots of cultural offerings - the goal is to make downtown a destination for families, day or night. He says the public has a big say in how that arts district would look.
"Is it arts facilities? Is it more classes? Is it happenings on the street? Are people wanting to see a greater involvement from multiple groups from around Champaign County -- educational groups, cultural groups, churches? What kinds of buy-in would people like to see happen through a cultural arts district in downtown Champaign?" asked Bentz. "We're encouraging people to really dream big."
After the public comment sessions, 40 North would hire a consultant to help come up with a definitive plan for an arts district.
The public sessions began Thursday night -- others will be held next Wednesday night at at 7:00 at City Hall and Thursday at noon at the Springer Cultural Center.
The operator of Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign is apparently looking to relocate as the building's owner looks for either a new tenant, or to sell the facility for another use.
Owner David Kraft says the rent of 4 dollars a square foot he's charging isn't near the market rate... and he can't afford to charge that little when factoring in expenses like real estate tax, water, trash, and sewer rates. Kraft says he's made operator Greg Boardman an offer of just under 9-dollars a square foot.
"If he won't pay that and no one will pay that, then I think everybody needs to look and determine if there's demand for this, if there's sufficient interest," Kraft said. "If no one is willing to pay near market rent, then maybe we do have to look at different ideas."
Kraft suggests there may not be room for a movie theater anymore when considering what other downtown businesses are paying for first floor retail space. He's looking to sell the Church Street building for just over $1 million.
Kraft says he's drawn interest for other theater operators, but nothing concrete.
Boardman's lease on the Church Street location expires in December. He couldn't be reached for comment, but the co-owner of a building across the street... Bill Capel... confirms Boardman toured his facility last month. That building houses the old Rialto Theater. Capel says any talk of moving Boardman's there would include extensive talk about renovations.
A sweeping federal indictment charges former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich with scheming to auction off President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate set, pressuring a congressman for campaign money and lying to FBI agents.
The 19-count indictment against Blagojevich and others also alleges billions of dollars in state pension bonds were refinanced in exchange for the promise of a massive kickback, among other crimes.
Others indicted included the former governor's brother Robert Blagojevich, Springfield millionaire William Cellini and the governor's onetime chief fundraiser Christopher G. Kelly.
Blagojevich's former chief of staff John Harris also faces a charge in the indictment. Prosecutors say he's cooperating.
US Senator Dick Durbin's reaction to Blagojevich's indictment was short - he says he hopes the governor doesn't see the indictment as a green light for another publicity tour. He says Blagojevich deserves his day in court but the people of Illinois deserve a break. 15th District Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana says those under indictment brought shame to the state and nation, and their prosecution is overdue.
Last-minute ballot lotteries will alter the order of candidates on ballots in Urbana and Champaign.
County clerk Mark Shelden says Republican candidates will appear first on the municipal election ballots in Urbana, followed by Democrats and Green party candidates. A lottery for Champaign ballot positions went to Democrats followed by Republicans. The lotteries follow protests from two candidates for Urbana mayor that the city clerk didn't hold a ballot lottery as required by state law. A City of Champaign township supervisor candidate later found that the clerk there didn't hold a lottery either. Shelden suspended absentee and early voting while new ballots are printed - he says absentee and early voting were expected to resume today
A University of Illinois economist doesn't see a bottom yet in the latest economic slowdown.
The monthly U of I Flash Index authored by Fred Giertz fell for a seventh straight month in March. It now stands at 95.6 - with any number below 100 showing economic contraction. It's been five months since the index showed growth in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index takes the state's economic pulse by examining state tax receipts for the previous month. Giertz expects further declines ahead for the index. It still hasn't reached the level seem in the last two slowdowns, in 1990 and 2001 - and Giertz believes this latest recession is deeper.
Federal prosecutors have worked for weeks to produce an indictment accusing ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich of committing an extraordinary "white-collar crime spree'' in the heart of Illinois government. Their handiwork could be seen as early as today.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has until Tuesday to get an indictment that would replace a complaint charging the former governor.
Blagojevich is accused of plotting to trade or sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and a host of other crimes.
Today is believed to be the last day the grand jury meets before the deadline, although the government never announces the time and place of grand jury meetings.
Fitzgerald could ask Chief Judge James F. Holderman of U.S. District Court for another deadline extension.
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