Blagojevich’s conviction on federal political corruption charges should provide a spark, but it’s up to the public to fan the flames.
“In an odd way, having this come up again … is an opportunity for us to focus on what needs to be done,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
Before becoming Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate, Simon was a member of the Illinois Reform Commission, a panel he appointed shortly after replacing Blagojevich in the governor’s seat to look for ways to fight corruption in Illinois politics.
In an interview with The Pantagraph opinion editor, Simon disagreed with the Chicago Tribune’s description of the commission as “now forgotten.”
But if the commission hasn’t been forgotten, most of its ideas have. Most were either ignored or approved in watered down form: the latter including campaign finance rules that more closely follow federal limits and a more neutral process for drawing new legislative and congressional maps.
The two areas Simon thinks deserve most immediate attention are more detailed disclosure of economic interests and public financing of campaigns, starting with judicial campaigns.
“People have a real good gut level feeling that judges can’t be the ones taking large contributions” from people with a stake in cases that might come before them, Simon said.
As for disclosure of economic interests — which will be addressed in a future editorial — Simon strives to lead by example.
In addition to required economic disclosure forms, she and her husband have disclosed their income tax records and provided a detailed disclosure of assets and liabilities. She said her top staff also have made economic disclosures beyond what it legally required.
But, let’s face it, the politicians who already voluntarily go beyond the basic requirements for disclosure or limit from whom they accept campaign contributions aren’t likely to be the ones we have to worry about.
We also need more tools for prosecutors to go after corrupt politicians instead of counting on federal investigators to do it.
That means approving the commission’s recommendations to permit court-approved wiretaps and give the state attorney general the power to convene statewide grand juries in political corruption cases.
Other all-but-forgotten recommendations deserving another look are term limits for legislative leaders and enhanced powers for the Board of Elections.
Voters must demand that elected officials follow through on promises of reform, and they must pay better attention to who they support on Election Day.