Hope Fading For Political Reform In Illinois This was supposed to be the year for political reform in Illinois. But six months after Pat Quinn took over for ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, some political reform advocates aren't satisfied with the results.
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Hope Fading For Political Reform In Illinois

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Hope Fading For Political Reform In Illinois

Hope Fading For Political Reform In Illinois

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GUY RAZ, host:

This was supposed to be the year of political reform in Illinois.

Governor PAT QUINN (Democrat, Illinois): We're going to start to fumigate state government from top to bottom to make sure that it has no corruption.

RAZ: That was Illinois Governor Pat Quinn back in January on his first full day in office. He replaced Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached after his arrest on corruption charges.

Six months later, NPR's David Schaper reports that few advocates of political reform think much of the fumigation efforts so far.

DAVID SCHAPER: Patrick Collins knows a thing or two about corruption in Illinois. He was the lead federal prosecutor of George Ryan, the former Republican governor now serving a six-year prison term. He prosecuted corrupt Chicago aldermen, city, state and county workers, as well as government contractors. And Collins says every case has one thing in common.

Mr. PATRICK COLLINS (Criminal Defense Attorney). Each major public corruption investigation I was involved in had, at its core, a campaign finance problem.

SCHAPER: So when Collins, now in private practice, was appointed by Governor Quinn to lead a commission to suggest reforms for Illinois' wayward politics, he and other commissioners zeroed in on the state's almost regulation-free system of campaign finance. They proposed contribution limits to mirror federal regulations and several other restrictions.

Mr. COLLINS: Suffice it to say; what came out of the legislative process did not reflect our core proposals.

SCHAPER: And that's putting it mildly. The Illinois General Assembly did recently approve contribution limits but they're set thousands of dollars higher and Collins and other reform advocates say, the limits are riddled with gaping loopholes.

For example, candidates can set up several campaign committees for themselves, which some fear could become slush funds. In-kind contributions are unlimited and the list goes on and on — and none of the new regulations would even take effect until 2011, after next year's elections.

David Morrison is with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Mr. DAVID MORRISON (Deputy Director, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform): The way that it's set up is going to invite challenge and it's going to be tied up in court. Since it doesn't take effect for so long, it's going to take that much longer to get through the courts. In that sense; it's a huge step backwards.

SCHAPER: Many other Illinois reform proposals were put off, including stronger corruption investigative and enforcement provisions, term limits for powerful legislative leaders and creating a less political redistricting system. In a state that continues to be the butt of the nation's jokes, Patrick Collins says, this was a rare chance for real reform in Illinois.

Mr. COLLINS: You know, the world was watching, and I think to have answered the bell in a relatively meek way was a huge missed opportunity.

SCHAPER: Collins says the Illinois legislature did pass a few good reforms, such as a stronger Freedom of Information Act and improve procurement laws to reduce the chances for contracting abuses. Lawmakers also cleaned up the state pension and hospital construction boards that Blagojevich appointees were convicted of using in extortion and kickback schemes. And some observers say that's a pretty good start for Illinois.

Mr. PAUL GREEN (Political scientist, Roosevelt University): A loophole is better than nothing.

SCHAPER: Paul Green is a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Mr. GREEN: It's a step. And then next time, you take another step and another step.

SCHAPER: Green says bringing law and order to the Wild West that Illinois politics has been has to be done gradually.

Mr. GREEN: Illinois government today with Blagojevich gone is cleaner now than it's been in decades.

SCHAPER: Even though Governor Quinn initially called the campaign finance bill landmark for imposing the first ever contribution limits in Illinois, he has not yet signed the bill. His spokesman says the longtime political outsider, considered a reformer himself, is aware of the criticism of the bill.

Some reform advocates hope he makes changes and sends it back to the legislature or that he vetoes it outright. Otherwise, they fear there won't be another chance for a significant reform until the next big scandal.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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