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Reformers hope Ryan indictments revive ethics laws
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Reform groups and some lawmakers say they hope the corruption indictment against the governor's campaign committee will increase pressure on lawmakers to pass new ethics legislation.
"Maybe I'm a hopeless optimist, but I can't imagine that politicians are willing to go into the fall elections without doing something," said David Morrison, coordinator for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
One state representative said the indictment could resurrect a long-stalled package of bills that would limit lobbyists' gifts to state officials and bar officeholders from raising campaign money from state employees.
"Perhaps the indictments will do that. Perhaps something good will come out of this bad thing," said Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, R-Glenview, a sponsor of the ethics bills.
Despite the Ryan scandal, the Illinois Senate could end up taking no action. Senate President James "Pate" Philip, R-Wood Dale, dismissed questions last week about ethics bills consigned to legislative limbo in the Senate.
"I'll have to review that," Philip said.
The Illinois Ethics Reform Project urged Philip to move the legislation. Executive Director Cynthia Canary says the state needs to take steps to keep another scandal from happening and put integrity into the political system.
"Illinois voters will continue to feel disenfranchised and lose faith in the political system unless action is taken to clean up Illinois politics," said Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center.
Federal investigators released a 10-count indictment Tuesday alleging that Citizens for Ryan was a corrupt organization that for seven years used secret payments and bribes to organize election victories, used government resources for political purposes, blocked internal investigations and obstructed justice. Two of Ryan's former aides, including his onetime chief of staff, were indicted, too.
Pressured to raise money
The federal probe began with allegations that low-level workers in Ryan's secretary of state administration were taking bribes to issue drivers licenses illegally and contributing some of the bribe money to Ryan's campaign. Ryan's employees were pressured to raise money for their boss, even to the point that some raises and promotions were based on fund-raising success, investigators say.
One driver who obtained an illegal license was connected to a traffic accident that killed six children. Several other people have died in accidents linked to people who may have gotten illegal licenses.
The man in Ryan's office responsible for investigating corruption, Inspector General Dean Bauer, eventually pleaded guilty to obstructing justice.
The Illinois House last year approved a package of ethics bills, some of which addressed problems raised by the Ryan case. For instance, the legislation would bar officials from soliciting donations from their employees, an effort to avoid pressuring workers to take bribes in order to come up with political money.
The package includes a voluntary $50,000 limit on the amount of personal wealth candidates can spend on their campaigns, a prohibition of campaign contributions from foreign citizens and a tightening of how lawmakers may use taxpayer-paid mailings in an election.