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State reform panel gets an earful at public hearing
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff

Pat Madigan of Buffalo Grove makes a statement during a town hall meeting on government reform held by the Illinois Reform Commission at Stevenson High School Wednesday night in Lincolnshire.

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez and member of the Reform Illinois Commission speaks during a town hall meeting on government reform at Stevenson High School Wednesday night in Lincolnshire.

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/19/2009 12:05 AM

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Could public financing of political campaigns be the silver bullet that stops the legacy of corruption in Illinois?

What about term limits for elected officials, an overhaul of the state's Freedom of Information Act or changes to the government bidding process?

These and other options were among the possible salves discussed Wednesday night at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire during the Illinois Reform Commission's first public forum.

Four members of the commission, formed in January by then-Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, spent the evening listening to comments and questions from the 100 or so people in the audience.

Commission Chairman Patrick Collins was joined on a small theater stage by Tasha Green, executive director of a nonprofit educational group; Northwestern University head football coach Pat Fitzgerald; and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

They pledged to consider the ideas put forth - and those that will be suggested at future forums - when they craft a report for Quinn in a few months.

Political corruption was a key focus of the evening's often lively discussion. Campaign finance reform, some in the audience suggested, could reduce the problem. The money needed to run for office is seductive,

Chicago resident Bernie Liebowitz said. "If there's going to be money involved, there's going to be corruption," he said.

Another audience member, Steve Williams of Lindenhurst, said public financing of campaigns "is a necessity" in Illinois. Former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich both landed in legal trouble because of their efforts to raise campaign cash, he said.

Public funding would mean candidates would no longer would be beholden to donors, Williams said, and it could allow candidates from third parties or who are not wealthy to run for office. "It'll allow new blood to flow into state government," he said.

Government transparency was another hot topic. One audience member complained about the hoops he's needed to jump through when trying to get documents through Freedom of Information Act requests. Another audience member said more public documents should be available on the Internet.

Collins said the ability to put government information on the Internet should make the need for Freedom of Information Act requests "should go the way of the dinosaur and the 8-track."

"You're right," Collins told the crowd. "The bad guys don't want you to connect the dots."

Future reform commission town hall forums will be held in Kankakee, Rockford, Champaign, East St. Louis and DeKalb. For more information about the group, visit reformillinoisnow.org.