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Illinois Legislature Passes Pay-to-Play Contracting Reform, Bill Awaits Governor's Signature

Illinois stands out as a state famous for corrupt politics.  For generations, patronage and pay-to-play politics have been raised to an art form by state and local politicians.  The state's last governor is in jail for racketeering.  The current governor is under federal investigation for allegedly giving jobs and no-bid contracts to campaign supporters, more than 200 of whom have given the governor checks for exactly $25,000.  Advocates of good government such as the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform have fought for years to bring the states' corrupt government officials to heel.

Now, it appears that they are on the cusp of celebrating their first major victory - a law that would ban campaign contributions from government contractors to elected officials who have control over giving out contracts.  Seven other states currently have some form of pay-to-play contracting law.  This bill, HB 824, would be a radical change in a state that doesn't put any limit on the size of campaign contributions.  It has passed each house of the legislature unanimously and now sits on the governor's desk.  He has expressed reluctance to sign the bill, claiming that he doesn't feel it goes far enough.  However, with the recent indictment of Tony Rezko, a major contributor, and the frequent mention of the governor at his trial, the pressure may just be too much to resist.  But even if he alters the bill or vetoes it, the lack of no votes in the legislature and statements from the leadership suggests that an override is likely.

Specifics of the pay-to-play bill:

  • Applies to current or prospective government contractors who have a total of $50,000 or more in contracts.
  • Establishes a registry of such contractors.
  • Prohibits contractors from making campaign contributions to elected officials who have control over the contracting process or persons running for such office.
  • Requires these contractors to report all campaign contributions.

Hopefully, passage of this important reform will be the first in a series that address the woeful state of government accountability in Illinois.

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