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Veto weak campaign finance bill
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 8/11/2009 12:00 AM

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What if you gave your teen a budget for back-to-school clothes, but set the level so high it was really no limit at all?

Or stuck to your own limit, while your spouse contributed 20 times more from the family budget toward those new jeans and sweaters?

If you did that, you'd be acting like the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn on the issue of campaign finance reform.

That's no way to teach a child, and it's no way to loosen the destructive grip that money has on politics in our state.

A bill on Quinn's desk masquerades as reform, setting 'limits' that will hardly restrict a thing. We urge Quinn to rethink his earlier praise and veto this measure. That, or rewrite it with some real teeth and send it back to the Legislature.

We acknowledge the risk: legislators might then fail to enact any limits on campaign spending, as Daily Herald Politics and Projects Editor Joseph Ryan pointed out in Sunday's edition. But the greater risk is that Quinn will sign the measure into law, he and legislators will don the mantle of reform and pat themselves on the backs, and real change will not happen - at least not until the next money-driven scandal rocks our state.

In recent days, Quinn has sounded open to giving the bill another look before the end of this month, when it would become law even without his signature. That's a worthy step, but this bill needs more than just tinkering. Here's how it falls short:

• Legislative candidates could collect $5,000 a year from one person or $10,000 from one entity, such as a union or a company. Candidates for federal office, right up to the president, can collect $2,400 from a person and $5,000 from an entity per election, not per year. Quinn's own Illinois Reform Commission had recommended adopting the federal limits, and we echo that advice.

• Legislative leaders and political committees would gain power by being able to bankroll candidates to the tune of $90,000 per year. House Speaker Michael Madigan could dole out $180,000 to his candidates for a 2-year House term. Senate President John Cullerton could hand out $360,000 to his candidates for 4-year Senate seats.

• Limits wouldn't apply in a race where any candidate donated or loaned $250,000 of his or her own money to fund a campaign.

• The State Board of Elections would get few new powers to enforce the limits.

With campaign funding at the heart of charges against two consecutive disgraced former governors, Illinois citizens shouldn't have to settle for a sham law.

"It's the best we can do at this time," Quinn said when the bill passed in May. But it's not the best he and the legislative leaders can do; in many ways it's the worst they can do, by creating only an illusion of reform.