Even though Rod Blagojevich may face extended jail time after allegedly trading executive favors for campaign contributions, it'd be silly to assume that deep-pocketed interests still don't hold plenty of sway in the Illinois Statehouse. Over the weekend, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recapped how a few big legislative fights this past session were potentially shaped by hefty donations. Over the past 18 months, for instance, telecom giant AT&T has spread $594,815 to various lawmakers in Springfield. Their major legislative priority, a rewrite of the state's telecommunications law, breezed through unanimously. A controversial bill establishing a sales tax revenue (STAR) district in Marion likely benefited from $20,000 the developer shoveled into campaign coffers. And the paper didn't even touch on plenty of smart bills that were blocked at the insistence of corporate donors.
None of the donations violated state law, at least under Illinois' old campaign finance system. But as the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's Cindi Canary tells the Post-Dispatch, "it's very hard to ignore the fact that half a million dollars is on the table when you're trying to decide the best course in public policy." That's a simple fact the state's campaign finance reform task force should keep in mind when evaluating Illinois’ new regulations.