Lawmakers don't like Blagojevich all-or-nothing ethics approach
State lawmakers say they’re willing to debate Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s major changes to the ethics reform measure they approved this spring — but not in the governor’s all-or-nothing approach.
Blagojevich on Monday announced he’s rewriting the ban on campaign contributions from some donors with state contracts to turn around on lawmakers the measure first aimed at him.
Legislators from the Springfield, Peoria and Rockford areas say the governor is trying to kill the reform proposal and predict his changes will be reversed.
“I believe the public and the voting public understand this governor and the way he operates,” said Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare. “He’s looking at this as a game.”
Lawmakers approved a narrow proposal in May that would ban people with $50,000 or more in state contracts from making campaign donations to the statewide officeholder overseeing the contracts. It’s designed to change an appearance of “pay-to-play” in Illinois politics.
But Blagojevich took it much further.
He’s issuing an executive order and amendatory veto extending the donation ban from those contractors to all statewide officeholders, the legislature and state political parties.
He’s also reversing how legislative pay raises are voted on, barring lawmakers from holding most other government jobs, and requiring better disclosure of lawmakers who do lobbying work in front of boards, commissions and local governments.
Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee said in an interview with The (Springfield) State Journal-Register editorial board Tuesday that the administration is trying to provide more transparency in all of government, not just the executive branch.
“We would like everyone to follow it,” Greenlee said. “We think it’s good policy.”
Greenlee also said the governor’s office stands by the legality of the move, although some lawmakers strongly disagree.
“The Constitution does not permit the governor to use an amendatory veto to write new legislation,” said Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria.
The legislature has a few options when it receives the measure back. If lawmakers do nothing, the original version and Blagojevich’s changes will die. Lawmakers also could accept the changes, but already the measure’s sponsors are planning to override them.
That doesn’t mean the governor’s ideas are all going nowhere.
The legislature takes heat often for a system that gives lawmakers automatic pay raises unless they vote to reject them. Blagojevich wants to make it an up-or-down vote to receive a raise, and lawmakers mostly agree.
“That’s no problem,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield. “They want transparency, it would be a lot better that way.”
Blagojevich has complained that several House Democrats, who also work for local governments in Chicago, have felt pressure to oppose the capital construction program he wants approved because they could lose their local jobs. But lawmakers don’t see the same conflict of interest with colleagues who also have local government jobs.
Local legislators also see no point in applying the contractor-donations ban to them because they don’t have a say in who receives contracts. Blagojevich has been repeatedly criticized for raising large amounts of money from state contractors.
“If I can’t raise money, then nobody else can either,” said Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland.
Lawmakers denied they were opposing the veto to dodge restrictions they don’t like. They said the new ideas should be pushed through the legislative process first.
Greenlee said the changes weren’t intended to kill the bill but should force lawmakers to take them more seriously.
“It’s not that we disregard the process. These are changes that wouldn’t get passed otherwise,” Greenlee said.
Legislators say they expect public pressure will be great to ensure the original bill is approved despite Blagojevich’s changes. But Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, says he could live with the donation ban if the alternative is watching the entire measure die.
“It’s ridiculous, but I could support it,” Bomke said.
Doug Finke contributed to this report. Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518.