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Ethics law passes state Senate
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/23/2008 11:02 AM | Updated: 5/23/2008 7:22 PM

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SPRINGFIELD -- Contractors doing business with the state would be banned from donating to the political campaigns of those who award them contracts, under a plan the Illinois Senate approved Friday.

The prohibition would kick in at $50,000 worth of contracts and applies only to the officeholder awarding the contract.

For example, someone with a $3 million contract awarded by Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration could not donate to Blagojevich's campaigns or any other candidate for governor. But the contractor could donate to the secretary of state or any other campaign.

Supporters -- it was approved 56-0 -- lauded the proposal as a significant step toward cleaning up Illinois' tainted political image.

"Our task will not be done with this, but we have moved a major boulder off the road," said state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat.

But the success Friday may be short-lived. A Blagojevich spokeswoman called the Senate's effort only "a beginning" and it doesn't go nearly far enough. She pointed to a past plan suggested by the governor that, among other things, would restrict contributions across the board, not just by contractors with state business.

The administration's stance likely sets up a political showdown later this summer. If lawmakers approve the plan as is and Blagojevich vetoes it, lawmakers would then need to rally support a second time to override his rejection.

Although no one voted against the plan in the Senate, there was criticism and skepticism.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, pointed to a loophole that lets contractors continue donating with no restrictions to the state political parties, which in turn could steer the money to contractors' preferred candidates.

And state Sen. Mike Jacobs, a Quad-Cities Democrat, warned supporters that they're getting close to unconstitutionally infringing on political speech. At the same time, Jacobs acknowledged the state has increasingly had "some difficulties" with political ethics and that the prohibition is needed.

"If the governor didn't have his problems, I guess we wouldn't be here today," said Jacobs, referring to the ongoing corruption trial of former Blagojevich insider Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who awaits a federal jury verdict on charges he manipulated millions in state investment business in exchange for campaign contributions.

Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.

Before the proposal can get to Blagojevich, it must go to the House where members will vote on whether to accept changes senators made. Only then would it be sent to the governor's desk.