A senate seat for ethics

We expected a few bombshells from the Blagojevich trial, but not one involving Emil Jones and the pay-to-play bill.

ICPR, with the support of a coalition of reform groups and many public officials, was the lead organization pushing for HB 1, the pay-to-play bill. We negotiated it, we lobbied for it, we fought every step of the way, despite years of push back from Senate President Emil Jones.

The pay-to-play bill a simple idea. It was endorsed by every major newspaper in the state, it had passed the House without opposition and it was sponsored in the Senate by 48 of the 59 members. But Senate President Emil Jones would not call it for a vote.

The working assumption at the time was that President Jones was blocking the bill to help Gov. Blagojevich (on this issue, as on many others, at the expense of the members of his caucus, his own reputation, and the clear will of the legislature) because of jobs and contracts given to his family members.

All of the statewide officials, except Blagojevich, endorsed the bill. What's more, all of the statewides except Blagojevich adopted rules prohibiting such contributions even before the pay-to-play bill was enacted. And yet Blagojevich opposed the bill, and by proxy, so did the Senate President.

In testimony Thursday, Blagojevich confidant Lon Monk testified that the actual reason Jones was fighting the bill was that Gov. Blagojevich had promised to appoint Jones to the US Senate if Jones would kill the bill.

In September of 2008, ICPR publicly asked Illinois' junior senator, then running for US President, to call his old friend Emil Jones and ask him to stop playing games and call the override vote. Within days, Barack Obama placed that phone call. Apparently, Emil Jones was willing to buck his caucus, but not his presidential candidate. The override passed, the bill was enacted, and Rod Blagojevich threw his fundraising organization into hyperdrive in order to beat the effective date of the new law.

So far, it's just one man's testimony. Whether that's actually why Jones was so adamantly opposed to the pay-to-play bill, we can't know for sure. But the suggestion that Blagojevich, as governor, would favor his campaign fund over the best interests of the state has a ring of truth to it; it fits a pattern, and it's not so far from the working assumption. We expect more testimony on events that fit that pattern in the coming days and weeks.

Mud is splattering from the trial. And some of it is hitting Emil Jones.