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Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama, Jones, and the Illinois Ethics Bill

In the aftermath of the Tony Rezko fiasco, the Illinois legislature quickly moved to tighten up ethics standards with a new ethics reform. At the heart of this reform was the concept of pay to play.

In politics, pay to play refers to a system, akin to payola in the music industry, by
which one pays (or must pay) money in order to become a player. The common
denominator of all forms of pay to play is that one must pay to "get in the game," with the sports analogy frequently arising[1].

Typically, the payor (an individual, business, or organization) makes campaign contributions to public officials, party officials, or parties themselves, and receives political or pecuniary benefit such as no-bid government contracts, influence over legislation[2][3], political appointments or nominations[4][5], special access[6] or other favors. The contributions, less frequently, may be to nonprofit or institutional
entities[7]. The phrase, almost always used in criticism, also refers to the increasing cost of elections and the "price of admission" to even run[8] and the concern "that one candidate can far outspend his opponents, essentially buying the election."[9]

Much of the corruption from the Rezko happened because power players began to bribe politicians in order to get high profile contracts from the state. As such, the state legislature immediately sprung into action. It passed the House. Then, it passed the Senate.

State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) announced today that the Illinois House and Senate chambers have agreed on legislation that would prohibit contractors from making political contributions to statewide officeholders.

“We need this legislation now more than ever” said Senator Hunter. “House Bill 824 will prevent state contractors and potential bidders from influencing the decisions made by our statewide officeholders.”

House Bill 824 bans businesses and their owners with more than $50,000 in state contracts from making campaign contributions to the officeholders awarding those contracts. This legislation also requires all state contractors to register with the State Board of Elections and report all contributions made to political committees.

If a business violates this act, its contract with the state would become void. Furthermore, all political committees receiving banned contributions would be required to contribute their funds to the state.

House Bill 824 received bipartisan support from the beginning, and representatives from all four caucuses were present when the agreement on the bill was announced.

“This is a historic moment for the state of Illinois” added Senator Hunter “I am pleased with the collaborative efforts to eliminate pay- to- play practices plaguing our government.”

Then, the Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, vetoed the bill. Blagojevich was mentioned prominently throughout the trial of Tony Rezko. In fact, some in Illinois expect that Blagojevich will soon himself get indicted on his own corruption charges.

When it rolled back through the legislature, the House quickly overrode the veto. Then, the Senate President, Emil Jones, used a political maneuver to hold up voting on it in the Senate. Jones allied himself with Blagojevich on this bill, and it appears that they are the only two politicians left in Illinois against this bill.

Jones is the political mentor of Barack Obama. In fact, he has been called by Obama as his political god father. Immediately, the Chicago area press began to demand that Obama intercede. For a few days, the Obama campaign was quiet. Then, at the beginning of the week, Barack Obama made that call.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has taken the unusual step of weighing in on a high-profile ethics bill in his home state, legislation that had been held up by his political mentor, Illinois Sen. Emil Jones.

"Senator Obama called Senator Jones today to offer his strong support for the ethics reforms pending before the Senate and urged him to pass them at the earliest possible opportunity," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

Obama is campaigning in Nevada today.

Suddenly, Jones reversed himself.

---A day after getting a phone call from Democratic presidential candidate
Barack Obama, Senate President Emil Jones decided Thursday to summon senators
back to the Capitol next week to tackle a high-profile ethics bill.

"I plan to call the Senate back into session to deal with the issue of
ethics only at the request of my friend, Barack Obama," said Jones, whom Obama
has called his political godfather.

Jones had been criticized for saying he wouldn't quickly call the Senate back to Springfield to consider Gov. Rod Blagojevich's changes to legislation to ban contributors who have or seek contracts worth at least $50,000 from giving
to statewide officials who dole out the business.

Now, there are two ways to look at this, cynically or positively. The cynic would point out that Emil Jones is Barack Obama's mentor. This is the sort of politics that he has been practicing for decades. Furthermore, Obama only got involved because this issue was threatening to become an issue in his own campaign. The positive person would point out that Obama got his old mentor to do the right thing, and this bill is now fast tracked to getting passed. I'll let the reader decide which perspective they take.

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