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Fed up with graft? You're obligated to weigh in
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 5/11/2009 12:05 AM

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Were you disgusted when you heard a truck driver with an illegal Illinois license contributed to the fiery death of six children? Were you fed up when you heard Rod Blagojevich was charged with scheming to sell our Senate seat? While Illinois faces a $12 billion budget hole, do you realize there are $10 billion a year in state contracts that could be manipulated for corrupt purposes? It's time you say you're not going to take it anymore. It's time you act.

There are some signs the Democratic leaders - Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael J. Madigan - are moving toward some corruption reform votes in the last three weeks of the legislative session. We heartily applaud their efforts so far. But we've watched the process long enough to fear one key leader could balk or that the compromise won't be thorough enough. We agree with Illinois Reform Commission members who believe specific ideas in six key areas must be addressed at once. Tinkering just with donation limits or public access laws or one idea in each area simply is not good enough.

There is no higher priority than trying to fix our broken state government. It's really not likely to get done thoroughly unless each one of us takes and makes the time to demand it.

Spend just 20 minutes or so today calling or writing your legislators and the legislative leaders who control so much in Springfield. To help, we've provided contact information here and a summary of most of the commission's ideas. Some concepts require further study, but the vast majority are here and we wholeheartedly support these.

We're committed. We believe so strongly in the ideas here that we intend to pay close attention to which suburban legislators step up when we consider re-election endorsements. We want all our suburban legislators to demand full floor votes on all these ideas and we'll remember which ones vote for them - and so should you.

Join us. Here, in digest form, is what you need to know:

Campaign finance:

Problem: Big donors win sometimes corrupt influence in return.

Solutions:

• cap donations from people at $2,400 an election and from corporations and groups at $5,000.

• require real-time disclosure of who's contributing what

• require disclosing key fundraisers who help candidates raise $16,000 or more

• require disclosing outsiders who pay for candidates' campaigns

• ban donations from lobbyists and trusts; continue banning donations from state workers, state contractors and those under state regulation

• test publicly financing judge elections

• expand enforcement/penalty/investigative power of the state elections board

State spending:

Problem: People and connected companies game the contracting system to win taxpayer-funded state work.

Solutions:

• move contract officials into a central office insulated from elected officials

• eliminate loopholes in the contracting rules

• create an independent contract monitor

• require more detailed disclosure from contractors and lobbyists on a searchable Internet database

Enforcement:

Problem: Prosecutorial and investigative tools are too weak to catch corruption.

Solutions:

• add corruption offenses to crimes that are not probationable

• give the state Attorney General power to use a grand jury to probe corruption

• create a public corruption team within the state police department

Government Structure:

Problem: State's system is set up to concentrate power in few people and aid incumbents.

Solutions:

• end the pick-from-a-hat system that allows one party to draw districts after each census

• impose 10-year term limits on the four Democratic and GOP legislative leaders

• hold hearings on the budget, break it into five sections, and require balanced appropriations

• require votes on all legislation that gets 16 House sponsors or eight Senate sponsors

Transparency:

Problem: Citizens too often can't access public documents and meetings that allow them to judge their governments.

Solutions:

• rewrite freedom of information and open meetings laws to tilt toward a presumption that records and meetings are public

• impose stronger fines and possible jail terms for those who break these laws

• require greater use of searchable, online databases to give citizens' access

Ending our corrupt culture:

Problem: Many state workers either game the system or don't trust anything will be done if they do report others' corruption.

Solutions:

• cut the numbers of political hires, contract workers and interns by governor and others

• fix job postings, testing and hiring so that best qualified are hired

• create an independent patronage monitor

• adopt an ethics code, improve state worker training and testing on it

• revise the whistle-blower act to boost workers' confidence they won't suffer retaliation

• prohibit pension abuse and adopt uniform pension rules

• expand rules that stop legislators and other state workers from cashing in on government

Don't let any elected official tell you it's too late to debate this and vote. It was too late not to years ago. Push past your cynicism. Contact your representatives. It's up to you, now.

For more on the Illinois Reform Commission's proposals, go to reformillinois.org

To confirm who your legislators are, consult your voter ID card or go to elections.il.gov/districtlocator/selectsearchtype.aspx