Illinois Residents See Broad Corruption in State Government and Seek Action for Change

A majority of Illinoisans (58%) believe Governor Rod Blagojevich’s alleged corrupt behavior is common among public officials in Illinois, and an even larger percentage believes a series of reforms, including limits on campaign contributions, would make a difference and lead to better government. The findings are contained in a new statewide poll released Thursday by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) and are available at www.ilcampaign.org. The poll itself is here (PDF) and the analysis is here (PDF).

About three-quarters of Illinois residents say an overhaul of Illinois’ weak system of campaign regulation would help make state government work better. According to the survey, 78% of residents say a ban on campaign contributions by corporations will make a difference, and 76% say a similar ban on labor union contributions would make a difference.

Similar sentiment (74%) was expressed for setting limits on the amount of contributions that could be given by individuals.

“The Blagojevich scandal and the other cases of corruption in state and local governments have taken their toll on voter confidence in public officials,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of ICPR. “Changing governors will not be enough to fix the system and restore the public’s faith in government.

“Illinois should join the federal government and 46 other states that limit the size of contributions, and our campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws should be strictly enforced,” she said. “The public does not have much faith in state government, but voters do believe reform efforts are worthwhile. Legislators should give the public the change it deserves.”

Opinions of the state legislature have sharply worsened in recent months (49% of residents now believe the legislature is doing a “poor” job compared to 26% who said so in April-May 2008). Concerns about corruption and the influence of money in politics are deeper than the current scandal and are likely to continue even if the governor is removed.

“These survey results transcend political parties and all regions of the state,” stated Sheila Simon, a professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law and a member of the ICPR Board. “Illinois residents are united in their views that our political system must be reformed.”

Even during tough economic times, Illinoisans are sending some strongly negative messages to officeholders across the state. Two-thirds support the creation of a new state agency to vigorously enforce Illinois’ campaign finance laws (66% support) and spending more tax dollars on stronger enforcement of laws to keep money out of politics (65%).

Underscoring the strong views of residents is another key finding: six in ten (61%) Illinois residents are “extremely” concerned about corruption in state government and more than half (54%) about the influence of money in state politics. Concerns of corruption exceed concerns over the economy (50%), jobs (45%), and the state budget (46%).

Other findings of the poll included:

• 71% of Illinois residents support a law limiting the amount of campaign money party leaders of the legislature are allowed to contribute to other legislative candidates;
• 89% of registered voters say their legislator’s support for legislation to reduce money in politics would be important to their decision to re-elect their legislator with half (50%) saying it would be “very important;”
• Eight in ten Illinois residents (78%) say the state is on the wrong track, an increase from the 68% who thought so in April-May 2008.

The poll was conducted by Belden, Russonello & Stewart (BRS), an independent
research firm located in Washington, DC. A random telephone survey of 802 adults in Illinois on attitudes toward government and political reform was conducted January 8 – 11, 2009. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points at the 95% level of tolerance. Some questions in the survey track attitudes from BRS surveys on political reform conducted in 2006 and 2008. The survey was commissioned and funded by The Joyce Foundation.