Governor’s Reform Commission holds Town Hall Meeting at U of I Urbana Campus
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.