Spotlight on pay-to-play politics
In Illinois, political favors and campaign contributions are traded like baseball cards. Sometimes it's hard to follow who gave money to whom, or which company scored what state contract.
Thanks to Comptroller Dan Hynes, keeping track just got a lot easier.
Hynes' office recently unveiled a Web site dubbed "Open Book," which lives up to its name. The site (www.OpenBook.ioc.state.il.us.) lists individuals and firms that do business with the state alongside their donations to elected officials' campaigns. Visitors can search for a company — say, XYZ Construction Co. — and see whether it gave money to a politician — say, Public Official A. Also viewable, down to the penny, are the amounts of a firm's state contracts.
"It's a really terrific system that I think has the potential of unleashing thousands of ants all over the state to crawl over the problem of pay-to-play contracting," said David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Indeed, the Open Book database, updated daily, makes great use of the Internet as an interactive, investigative medium. It's a must-click, not only for government wonks and journalists but for any taxpayer who's curious how his or her money is being spent.
Furthermore, the database is a ray of sunshine concentrated on state government. While visitorsshould not just assume that any business they see on the site earned a state contract because it gave money to the right people, they should appreciate this heightened transparency. So should elected officials — particularly the Senate president and governor, who've stalled on introducing ethics reforms to curb the kind of pay-to-play practices that have made Illinois infamous.
Consider Open Book a trust-building exercise between voters and businesses and the people who wouldn't be in office without them.