Latest Blagojevich veto another campaign cash killer
Gov. Rod Blagojevich threw another campaign-finance bombshell at state lawmakers Friday, rewriting a bill to bar any campaign contributions from local or state government employees to any state officials.
The governor’s proposal, put into a measure through an amendatory veto, goes far beyond both limits on campaign donations considered before by the legislature and the policies by most state officeholders to not accept cash from their own employees.
If Blagojevich’s veto is upheld, the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, treasurer, secretary of state and attorney general along with state lawmakers would not be able to take political money from anyone who works for a state agency or a city or county government. Each violation would draw a $10,000 penalty.
The proposed ban now goes back to lawmakers, who Friday evening signaled it was in trouble.
Legislators say the governor should pursue such changes through the full legislative process and not through an amendatory veto.
“I don’t know if at the end of the day it does anyone any good,” said Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago.
This veto comes a few days after the governor made a much bigger splash by rewriting a more high-profile ethics reform measure. That bill barred people with large state contracts from donating to officeholders overseeing the contracts, but the governor expanded it to apply to other officeholders and lawmakers.
The changes in both campaign-finance bills have to be approved by lawmakers to be put into law. Legislators could vote to reject the changes, or they could simply not take up the bills. But taking no action would kill both the original measures they passed and what Blagojevich proposed.
Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert and political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said the governor’s actions are unconstitutionally broad and designed simply to get headlines.
He said to call Blagojevich disingenuous would be “like saying Mount Everest is a small hill.”
“It’s so disproportionate and so wrong in terms of the basics of the process,” Redfield said.
Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee said the governor proposed the blanket ban on employee donations to ensure employees don’t feel pressure to donate in order to keep their jobs or keep their bosses happy. Employee donations were part of the corruption that plagued former Republican Gov. George Ryan’s administration when he was secretary of state.
Greenlee said the veto was used to get lawmakers to take the idea more seriously, but the administration will continue working on the proposal if the legislature doesn’t approve it now.
“Part of it is we’re raising the issue for discussion,” he said. “We can continue through the process.”
Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, credited the administration for bringing the idea to the forefront but said she has real questions about the proposed ban.
She said barring state officials from taking donations from thousands of state and local employees could be a logistical nightmare in tracking donors’ employers. She also said the pressure to donate isn’t apparent when local government employees give money to their legislators or the comptroller, for example.
“I think the governor is really overstretching here,” Canary said. “There are better ways to approach it.”
Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518.