Block That Veto

ICPR: Legislature Should Override Gov. Blagojevich’s Veto of Pay-To-Play Reform Bill

CHICAGO – Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, released the following statement in response to Gov. Blagojevich’s announcement Monday that he will implement both a modified version of the pay-to-play legislation by executive order and issue an amendatory veto of House Bill 824, legislation which would include a range of other proposals:

“By vetoing this reform legislation, Gov. Blagojevich will be protecting business-as-usual in state government. Because Blagojevich’s campaign committee has targeted state contractors for big contributions, too many of them believe they have to ‘pay-to-play’ or risk losing their contracts, and too many citizens are convinced state contracting is rigged to benefit campaign contributors. Many previous governors, including one serving time in a federal prison, used similar fundraising practices, and Gov. Blagojevich does not want to change.

“Gov. Blagojevich is the only statewide officeholder accepting money from state contractors under his control. He has become dependent on millions of dollars from state contractors, and he is not going to give that up without a fight. If taxpayers want fairness in government and want to stop pay-to-play politics, we’re going to have to fight for an override of this veto.

“The governor claims he will strengthen HB 824 with an amendatory veto and executive order, but it is apparent he is trying to bypass the legislative process, rather than work towards real reform. Some of his proposed changes have merit and should be debated as separate bills. In the meantime, the General Assembly should reject his veto and put the most important reform in state statutes.”

Here is Canary’s full statement:

“After more than three years of work on legislation to curb pay-to-play contracting in state government, I don’t need to tell you why it is needed or why it has been so difficult to get this limitation in state statutes.

“Gov. Blagojevich today told reporters that he will issue an amendatory veto of House Bill 824, and our attention now turns to persuading the House and Senate to reject his changes and enact the bill as written when it passed both chambers this spring without any dissenting votes.

“When the bill passed in May, all of the main sponsors of HB 824 predicted the governor would issue an amendatory veto as a way to kill the bill. They told us the governor would claim that he was just making it better but that in reality he would load it down with so many more controversial changes that a majority of the General Assembly would not be willing to support the revised bill.

“Their predictions are coming true. Because the governor did not file his amendatory veto and announced this by press release, we do not know the exact language of his proposed changes. We do know that he said that it will include a change in the way legislative pay raises are enacted, a prohibition on legislators working in some position in some local governments and new financial disclosure requirements for legislators.

“He also said he will issue an executive order prohibiting large state contractors – regardless of which officeholder awarded the contract – from giving campaign contributions to constitutional officers, legislators and candidates for those offices. There is little doubt an executive order of that scope would be found unconstitutional and unenforceable. Courts have upheld some restrictions on campaign contributions when the remedy of a ban closely matches the harm being addressed, but his proposal seems designed to invite a challenge as a violation of First Amendment protections. He’ll be issuing something that he knows has no chance of ever being enforced.

“When the legislative sponsors from both parties in the House and Senate announced an agreement on the pay-to-play legislation in May, they vowed to stand strong together and fight any amendatory veto. We agreed that would be the best way to make a ban on contributions on state contractors a reality, and we all said that we would encourage the governor to work with us next spring on additional reform legislation.

“We remain committed to that strategy. It leaves us in the awkward position – some might say ‘trick bag’ – of asking legislators to reject some good reforms, but that’s the upside down world we operate in these days.

“After all, it’s the governor who came up with the slogan ‘Rewrite to do Right’ in an attempt to convince us that wrongdoing is right. And that’s just wrong.”

It is important that the legislative leaders allow a vote on the governor’s amendatory veto. If either chamber throws up a roadblock, the bill will die. Remember, the original pay-to-play bill (House Bill 1), was held hostage in the Senate Rules Committee for more than a year before the Senate got serious about negotiating compromise language with the House this spring.

HB 824 is not all that is needed to reform our campaign finance system and guarantee fairness in state government. However, enacting it now will give us an opportunity to fight for other reforms in 2009 instead of waging this pay-to-play battle all over again.

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