Blagojevich says rewrite expands ethics reforms, not guts it

 
 
  • Gov. Rod Blagojevich

    Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Published: 8/25/2008 11:57 AM | Updated: 8/25/2008 3:54 PM

As Illinois Democrats rallied in Denver for their 'favorite son' during the party's first day at the convention, Gov. Rod Blagojevich was back in Chicago rewriting legislation that may end up killing campaign finance reform.

Blagojevich has said for months that he "can't wait" to get his "hands on" a measure that would ban him from taking contributions from state contractors. Lawmakers approved the legislation earlier this year.

Even in the wake of major ethics scandals and the conviction of his top fundraisers in a state kickback scheme, Blagojevich has relied heavily on state contractors to fill his campaign fund and pay off massive legal bills.

Today, Blagojevich announced he was rewriting the campaign finance legislation, and instead banning the conduct by an executive order. He defended the action as necessary in order to add state lawmakers and other state elected officials to those being affected. He said an executive order can do this because it makes companies who do business in amounts over $50,000 a year with the state agree not to donate to legislators, constitutional officers or himself. He denied that putting the provision in an executive order, rather than a statue, would put himself in charge of policing his own actions. He said the measure has the full force and effect of a law.

"It's law and if you violate this, you're violating the law," Blagojevich said.

The remaining bill from which the provision was stripped was then amendatorily vetoed by Blagojevich to change it to prohibit county and municipal employees from also being legislators. He claims those employees too often serve their daytime job bosses - like Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago - in Sprinfield rather than heeding the wishes of their constituents. Teachers, police and firemen and other certain employees would be exempt from the provision and could continue to fill both jobs simultaneously. The rewrite would also require legislators to have to openly vote for a pay raise instead automatically passively receiving one as they do now.

The measures were needed "so we can change a system that serves itself at the expense of the people," contended Blagojevich in a press conference at a West Side unemployment office in Chicago. He intends to join the Illinois delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Congress tonight or tomorrow, his spokesman said.

At the Illinois delegation's regular breakfast gathering in Denver, Comptroller Dan Hynes said he was "disappointed" in the governor's move and feared it may kill the chance at reform through statute.

"We could have had immediate reform," said Hynes, who has been a key supporter the original legislation. "Now we are going to have a debate about it."

However, the Chicago Democrat was careful not to attack the governor.

Additionally, House Speaker Michael Madigan, the governor's chief rival, also declined to get into a verbal scuffle on the issue.

The tame tenor of the reaction fits into the delegation's overarching goal to show a unified force in Denver so as to not embarrass Obama during the convention.

Yet, some lower-level politicians weren't afraid to rip into the governor.

"Put a bib on him and put him in a high chair," scoffed state Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat.