10.01.2008 0

Keeping Pay-to-Play at Bay

  • On: 10/09/2008 13:05:31
  • In: Government Transparency
  • The State Senate of Illinois has taken a good first half step towards banning the notoriously corrupt practice of “pay-to-play.”

    Under pay-to-play, unethical officeholders hand out lucrative state contracts to their political cronies — who, in turn hand back hefty campaign contributions to their friends in office. The Senate passed the pay-to-play ban by a whopping 56-0 margin. Which is good. It is expected to pass the House with equal ease. Which is even better. And it will likely arrive on Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D-IL) desk within a few days. Which could create a problem.

    Gov. Blagojevich has refused to take a position on the bill, which is so vitally important to cleaning up the stench of corruption that has long permeated Illinois politics. And state legislators fear the governor will eviscerate, if not outright kill, the legislation. In the words of Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago): “It will rest on the governor as to whether he wants to put the best interest of the state ahead of the best interest of his campaign account.”

    Now, why would the governor put his campaign account above the state’s interest? Well, here’s a hint, from the Chicago Tribune’s popular “Clout Street” coverage:

    “Gov. Rod Blagojevich is sending out invitations for a big fundraising shindig on June 26 in Chicago, where he’s happy to call folks a “co-chair” of the event for a mere $20,000 contribution.

    “The governor is still pressing hard to raise campaign cash even though his fundraising practices have come under scrutiny during the trial of Antoin “Tony” Rezko, one of his top fundraisers. The governor’s repeatedly denied wrongdoing. The Tribune gave you a first-hand glimpse last week into a cozy Rush Street Blagojevich fundraiser where the tollway chairman mingled with a state contractor.

    “The political fundraisers are being held as the Rezko jury is still out and the General Assembly is considering a crackdown on so-called “pay to play” politics. Legislation awaiting House approval aims to reduce the number of campaign donors who end up getting state contracts from the state official who got the donation.

    “A Tribune examination revealed Blagojevich has received 235 contributions of exactly $25,000. Most of the donors got something from the administration, such as contracts, appointments on boards and favorable policy or regulatory action.”

    In short, Mr. Blagojevich may gut or kill the bill precisely because he is one of pay-to-play’s most egregious practitioners. He has a bulging bank account of $5,875,000 to prove he plays. His political cronies have the government contracts, crooked deals, and cushy jobs to prove they pay. And the good people of Illinois have the stench of corruption rising around them to prove it’s time to put pay-to-play practitioners out of business – if not behind bars.

    The truth is, the Senate pay-to-play bill, as good as it is, actually doesn’t go far enough. The real way to end this obscene practice is to pass a bill saying that if a business has a contract with the state, its principals cannot give campaign contributions to any state candidates – period. That would prevent backroom deals arranging third-party contributions that undercut the intent of the law.

    Still, the Illinois State Senate has taken a good first half step in the right direction. The pay-to-play ban deserves to become law. And Gov. Blagojevich should receive heavy pressure from all who realize that a victory for open and honest governance anywhere is a victory for open and honest governance everywhere. He may be reached at 217-782-2525.

    ALG Perspective: Lest the governor try to claim otherwise, please note that this is not a First Amendment issue. It is a contracts and ethics issue. In upholding the FECA and in the McConnell cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that eliminating the “appearance of corruption” is a compelling governmental interest.

    On a related, if somewhat dervish note: This means that should pay-to-play bans ever be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, it would have to ignore (or vacate) the underlying rationale for both the FECA and McCain-Feingold. Which means once the bill is signed into law, the voters win either way. Because, if it stands, pay-to-play will be dead. And if it falls, freedom would, in principle, be restored to the nation’s electoral process. Which is even better.

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