Collins to Illinois legislators: where do you stand on corruption?

Published: 4/2/2009 10:02 PM

In the wake of Thursday's scathing indictment of Illinois politics, each and every lawmaker should be asked where they stand on public corruption and what they specifically intend to do about it, the head of the Illinois Reform Commission says.

"To me that is a fair question for every legislator in both chambers - what is your answer to that question?" said Patrick Collins, a Lisle native and former federal prosecutor who helped put Rod Blagojevich's predecessor in prison for corruption.

And if the answer is just that the system needs to be tweaked at the edges, or worse yet, nothing done at all, "I think the public can and should respond accordingly," Collins said.

Saying corruption is "embedded in the DNA of our culture," Collins believes that nothing short of an overhaul of state government is needed to battle corruption in government.

Collins' panel, appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, has recommended limits on campaign contributions, separating elected officials from doling out lucrative contracts, increased wiretapping authority for state prosecutors, and a voluntary code of conduct for public officials that raises the bar on what it means to be a public servant.

He said that with one Republican former governor sitting in prison and a Democratic governor facing the same if convicted, the debate about whether these problems are isolated should be over.

If prosecutors are right, Collins noted, even as Ryan was being investigated, indicted and convicted, Blagojevich was engaging in the exact same behavior.

Wiretaps of Blagojevich show his scheming allegedly extended not just to him, but to advisers, fundraisers and various political hangers-on, prosecutors contend.

"There's all these consultants on the phone, and no one says, 'Guys, this is wrong. Let's not do it,'" noted Collins. "What that says to me is that this is embedded in the political DNA of our culture."

While the commission's reforms might not stop outright bribery, Collins has noted, they would limit campaign funds as a conduit for them. And they would reduce the incentive of Illinois' so-called "pay-to-play" syndrome, where those who give big campaign contributions miraculously receive fat government contracts.

"The desire to build a (political) war chest and pay-to-play ... (are) both the core of the indictment and the core of our proposals," Collins said.

"The debate is now in Springfield. The only place that legislative reforms can take place is in Springfield. What is the answer for each and every legislator in both houses?" Collins said.