Recent campaign bill does not go far enough

Pat Quinn assumed the Governor’s office earlier this year with promises of ambitious reforms in state government. He faced an uphill battle to be sure, succeeding two indicted governors and entering a political culture where corruption is the norm. But so far, Quinn’s actions haven’t lived up to his words.

At the end of the spring session, the state Legislature passed a campaign finance “reform” bill with the dubious distinction of being opposed by most reform advocates.

Quinn needs to take decisive action on ethics to live up to his reputation as a reformer.

The bill passed in May sets a $90,000 per year cap on transfers from legislative leaders to candidates, and caps contributions from individuals and interest groups to $5000 and $10000 per year, respectively. The Illinois Reform Commission, a panel established by Governor Quinn to develop an ethics reform plan suggested much more restrictive caps of $30,000 for legislative leaders, $5000 for interest groups and $2400 for individuals.

Legislative leaders have historically played a kingmaker role in races for their chambers and used control over financial support to ensure that members vote their way.

Limiting the role of the Senate President, Speaker of the House and minority leaders, as well as the support of interest groups, is essential to creating a climate where lawmakers can vote independently, but this bill falls far short of doing that.

Also, the law would not take effect until 2011, sparing legislators from facing the new rules in the next election.

So, the passage of the campaign finance bill diminishes the clamor for ethics reform. Now that a bill has been passed, Quinn can at least temporarily claim to have accomplished a reform-related goal, and get advocacy groups and the media off his back.

While Quinn characterizes the bill as “historic,” the only thing historic about it is that pretenses of change continue to take the place of the real thing.

So far, the culmination of Quinn’s reform efforts has been an ethics bill that everyone agrees doesn’t go far enough.

Changing Illinois’ political climate is a difficult task, but Quinn’s progress hasn’t lived up to his words.