Viewpoint: Buying influence continues unabated

Viewpoint: Buying influence continues unabated

By Joe Baker

Buying influence continues unabated

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

They’re talking about campaign reform in Washington, D.C., but in Illinois, there’s no mention of such a thing at the state level, and business as usual rolls merrily along.

In the 1999-2000 election cycle, the two major Illinois teachers’ unions came in first and third respectively in campaign coffer enrichment for state candidates.

The Illinois Education Association was the largest private sector contributor at $1.37 million, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. The Illinois Federation of Teachers and its largest local, the Chicago Teachers Union, came in third with total contributions of $975,000.

Between the two was the Illinois State Medical Society, which gave $1,026,000.

The IEA and the medical society have been one and two, giving more than $1 million each the last four elections, while donations from the teachers’ federation have jumped dramatically in recent years. The union contributed less than $425,000 four years ago.

School financing and education policy will continue to be key issues before the General Assembly in 2002, according to Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project at the University of Illinois. “In Illinois, big issues always attract big money,” he said.

Donations from the top 20 contributors in the state went up from $9.5 million in 1996–when there were no statewide races–to $11.5 million in 2000.

“Based on recent trends and the absence of any reforms, Illinois’ upward spiral of campaign contributions will continue,” said Cindi Canary, director of Illinois Campaign Reform.

“Not only will there be contests for governor and all other constitutional offices in 2002, but the new legislative map will change the political landscape,” she said. “Combine the uncertainty of the new map with Illinois’ wide-open campaign finance laws, and the result will be the most expensive campaign in Illinois

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history,” Canary added.

Seven groups have been in the top 10 in each of the last four election cycles. In addition to the teachers’ groups and the medical society, they are: Illinois Hospital and Health Systems; Illinois Manufacturers’ Association; Illinois Trial Lawyers Association; Associated Beer Distributors, Illinois Association of Realtors and the Illinois Bankers Association. The latter two groups moved into the upper bracket just last year.

This is the time-honored way of doing political business in Illinois. It’s one of the prime motivations for seeking public office–all that gravy that goes with the job. Not public service but personal profit.

Ordinary citizens see the need for campaign reform, for putting limits on contributions. It isn’t likely that anything will come of the current federal-level discussions. The good ol’ boys don’t want any reform, except maybe to increase the amount they can get. Illinois is wide open on that subject, and there is no evidence that anything will change.

So long as we allow these groups in the private sector to finance their self-interest through the public sector, nothing will change. It will only get more corrupt. Again, it is up to us.

Welcome to Illinois. Bring your wallet.

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