Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, who is considering running for Illinois governor, called Monday for a ban on campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session, saying the current rules are too lax and are one reason lawmakers can't agree how to fix Illinois' pension system.
The Chicago Democrat called for tighter restrictions a day after announcing he had raised roughly $800,000 since he formed a 2014 exploratory committee last month — a quick burst that signals he's serious about running.
Daley said fundraising while lawmakers are meeting affects the political process and has kept legislators from pushing forward with a plan to address Illinois' roughly $100 billion unfunded pension liability, job creation and education.
"The legislators and the statewide elected officials should be looking at these issues not based upon what fundraiser they're running to that night and who's giving them money," he said.
Without mentioning specific people, interest groups or unions, Daley cited data compiled by his committee that showed the state's six constitutional officers raised more than $2 million for approximately four-month session that ended in May. Among the six are the governor, treasurer and attorney general — three of Daley's possible rivals for governor, if he decides to run.
State law currently says that no office holders, including members of the General Assembly or executive branch, can fundraise in Sangamon County while the Legislature is in session. The laws were made in 1998 after an era when it was common in Springfield to hold breakfast fundraisers before morning committee hearings, according to campaign finance expert Kent Redfield.
Daley proposed extending the ban statewide and to all officeholders and political candidates for whenever the Legislature is in session, whether it's for one day or months at a time. But the exception would be for the four months leading up to an election including primaries.
Daley vowed to abide by that principal himself while campaigning for governor, including if there is a special session for pensions later this month. He also said that if he's elected governor he won't fundraise for the first three years in office even if lawmakers don't approve such a ban.
He cited the state's long history with political corruption and said a statewide fundraising ban while the Legislature is in session would restore the public's confidence in elected officials by tamping down even the appearance of conflicts of interest and influence peddling. Furthermore, he said, it would lead to shorter, more productive sessions.
"All our state leaders should be focused on the people's businesses and not the business of campaign cash," he said.
But Redfield, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said such a ban would be difficult to pass through the General Assembly and didn't directly attack the problem of conflicts of interest. That's because the limits would only really apply to every other year and wouldn't stop an interest group from giving before or after a sessions.
"This is working on the margins," he said. "Anything that reduces conflicts of interest or appearances, those are all good things but since we already can't have the fundraisers in Sangamon County, then I think you have a bigger impact doing other things."
More than two dozen states have some type of restriction on campaign contributions during legislative sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. However some of those states only have restrictions on lobbyists.
The Democratic primary next year could feature a crowded field of high-profile candidates. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he'll seek re-election and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is considering running. A number of Republicans, including Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, Chicago businessman Bruce Rauner and state Sen. Bill Brady have already announced bids.
Daley, the brother and son of two longtime Chicago mayors, announced his fundraising totals late Sunday. He said they included a $5,300 contribution from former Vice President Al Gore. Daley ran Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. A campaign spokesman says the money came from several hundred donors.
The proposal to limit campaign contributions comes as Illinois faces an unprecedented pension crisis. Lawmakers skipped or shorted payments to state retirement funds for decades, creating a roughly $98 billion pension shortfall. It's led to repeatedly lowered credit ratings. Still, in the last 12 months lawmakers have left Springfield five times without a solution to the problem. A bipartisan committee has been tasked with finding a compromise and is scheduled to hold its second public hearing this week.
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