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Limiting contributions a good start
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 4/17/2009 12:01 AM

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We've said before in this space that we get the government we allow. We've been allowing pervasive corruption in Illinois for decades now. It's time we all took ownership and demanded it stop. Lisle native and former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins and his Illinois Reform Commission began laying out a blueprint for our corruption clean up. One of the commission's top recommendations is a series of limits on campaign contributions. We all must call and write our legislators, who stand to be hamstrung by such limits, and demand them.

This is not a new idea. The group suggests Illinois follow the federal model and limit individuals to giving $2,400 to a campaign per election cycle. That means a donor could give a campaign $2,400 for a primary and another $2,400 for the general election for a total of $4,800. No politician can keep a straight face and complain that's not enough. After all, couldn't you stand a few less campaign commercials? As it is, Illinois is one of only a handful of states left that does not have any limits on donations to state and local campaigns.

But some of the commission members' ideas for other restrictions are just as important for all of us to understand and demand.

Right now, most details about donors and amounts only have to be disclosed a few times a year and well after elections have occurred. Collins and his group call for nearly real-time reporting of donations of $1,000 or more for statewide candidates and of $500 or more for legislative candidates. At the heat of the campaign season now, those bigger donations only have to be disclosed within five business days of a campaign having received them. So, if someone gave former Gov. Rod Blagojevich $50,000 the Thursday before Election Day, none of us would even get to know about it until after the balloting.

In this age of instantaneous Internet communication, there is no excuse for not adopting real-time donation disclosure.

We also should demand disclosure of the key fundraisers for campaigns. If, for example, Antoin "Tony" Rezko won access and power from Blagojevich because he got 10 people to donate $2,400 each to him, then we should know Rezko was what is called a "bundler." It's common sense that allows all of us to truly understand someone's role and influence in a campaign.

Collins' commission also is calling for our legislators this spring to pass a law requiring that outside groups disclose their donations and that political action committees, unions and corporations be limited to donations of no more than $5,000 per cycle. Just as significant, they recommend lobbyists and trusts be banned from contributing to campaigns.

It all makes sense as a solid first step toward cleaning up the corruption endemic in Illinois. But each of us must demand this change. "What the bad guys have going for them is inertia," Collins told us recently. It's time for every single one of us to end that inertia. We can get the government we want.