Standing in the way of reform
The weeks since our last post have proved the saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The House has, again, passed legislation to outlaw pay to play practices. Newspapers across the state, from Chicago to Bloomington, have editorialized in favor of HB 1. And the Senate has taken no action on any of the bills that would address the problem.
Below is the text of the latest editorial in favor of HB 1.
June 18, 2007
Illinois Senate President Emil Jones is blocking a measure that could rein in "pay-to-play" politics in Springfield.
A bill that would restrict campaign contributions by people who do business with the state is bottled up in the Senate Rules Committee, a gas chamber for legislation Mr. Jones opposes. He won't allow a floor vote on the bill, which would bar those who have more than $25,000 in state contracts from giving campaign money to the officeholder who awards the contracts.
The Illinois House voted unanimously in favor of the restriction, and 45 of the state's 59 senators are co-sponsors of the bill Mr. Jones doesn't want called for a vote.
Mr. Jones is standing squarely in the path of a long-overdue reform. Illinois has earned a reputation as a state where government contracts are purchased through campaign contributions to the officials who dole them out. Under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the practice has reached new heights.
A series of scandals and indictments stemming from state contracting abuses seems to have finally awakened most of the state's lawmakers to the need for change. Mr. Jones, it seems, hasn't heard the news.
Mr. Jones isn't saying why he opposes the reform bill. But it's hard to imagine an argument that would justify the status quo. Corruption in state contracting costs taxpayers millions. The state pays more than it should when officials award contracts on the basis of clout. And when contractors are graded on the size of their campaign contributions rather than the quality of their work, the state often doesn't get what it pays for.
Pay-to-play politics also undermines public confidence in government and encourages voter apathy. Why should ordinary citizens participate in a process they perceive to be rigged in favor of insiders?
Banning campaign contributions by big state contractors would be a move in the right direction on both fronts. It would help address the state's chronic financial woes and give Illinoisans a reason to believe their state government works for them.
If only Mr. Jones would get out of the way.