Several colleagues called recently to question the propriety of last Monday night’s fund-raising frenzy in Springfield, where state lawmakers headed into the final month of the Spring legislative session with an appeal for campaign cash from lobbyists and special-interest groups at more than 20 separate fund-raisers.
Those transactions would have been illegal if the Legislature had convened earlier on Monday because end-of-session fundraisers are prohibited on scheduled “work” days.
But they were off Monday and back Tuesday.
So the flurry of fund-raisers violated only the intent of the law — not the law itself — as pandering pols slithered through another “loophole” in Springfield’s ethical and fiscal swamp.
This is the political climate we live and work in — worse than our weather — and it prompts cynics to suggest waving a white flag and conceding defeat.
But the reform fight is too important for that, so we’re soldiering on.
This year the Legislature is obsessed with the big, politically risky issues everyone is watching — pension fixes, gaming expansion, same-sex marriage and gun owners’ rights — and groups like the Better Government Association are focusing on the lower-visibility reforms we care about.
Yes, it’s “game on” at the Capitol.
The BGA’s not supporting specific bills on the major issues; we’re simply asking legislative leaders to give the relevant proposals a fair hearing and lawmakers an opportunity to vote after weighing the pros and cons.
That’s a “good government’ approach to legislating, but it doesn’t guarantee good results because the aforementioned flow of campaign cash frequently drowns out good judgment.
On the BGA front, we’re working with legislative allies to pass several important reform measures developed by our policy unit in the wake of our investigations:
- Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago spearheaded Senate passage of a bill that would allow investigators to record interrogations of suspects in all felony cases, not just homicides. That’s an important step in reducing the wrongful convictions that send innocent people to prison and cost taxpayers millions in court settlements.
- Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood helped win House approval of a plan to give inmates a better shot at a new hearing when there’s new evidence of innocence. That also follows our “Wrongful Convictions” investigation.
- Senate allies persuaded a majority of their colleagues to support an efficiency measure that would let Evanston voters decide whether to fold their antiquated and arguably unnecessary township bureaucracy into their coterminous city government.
That’s another step in our campaign to give voters in every township the power to eliminate duplication and save tax dollars by abolishing these governmental relics.
Read Our Latest Think Tank Blog Post
But all three measures still have to clear a second legislative chamber, so there’s more work to do.
Finally, we’re drafting an important public safety bill: A “zero tolerance impairment policy” for police officers currently protected by cockamamie labor agreements that permit their on-duty blood-alcohol levels to approach the legal definition of drunk.
Time is short, but it’s necessary legislation.
Not surprisingly, there’s pushback on all of our initiatives from opponents who find the reforms inconvenient or threatening, and their side has more money than ours.
Especially after Monday night’s fund-raising fandango.
But we’re buoyed by the biblical story of the little guy with a slingshot who bested the giant.
Davids do occasionally win.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at email@example.com or 312-386-9097