I knew I was getting a lot of hits on my October 28, 2011, story about the campaign contributions given by the electric industry, but look what popped up a couple of weeks ago on Quad Cities OnLine.
It’s a long piece by retired Circuit Court Judge John Donald O’Shea of Moline. I thought I would share his letter to the editor.
Illinois Senate: When does a contribution become a bribe
Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2011, 7:54 am
I am neither for nor against Smart Grid.
I write because I am appalled by reports that two utility companies, Ameren and Commonwealth Edison, and their friends generously poured money into the campaign coffers of members of the Illinois Legislature at a time when the utilities were lobbying for passage of that legislation.
These allegations show that the Illinois State Senate is a sewer.
When a judge takes “gifts” from a litigant whose case is pending before the judge, we call it a “bribe,” and the judge goes to jail.
But when a legislator takes thousands of dollars from somebody who wants the legislator to vote a certain way on a bill, the money paid is characterized as a “campaign donation.”
The Better Government Association (BGA) states that on May 31, the Illinois Senate passed a controversial bill to raise energy rates and revamp the grid.
In the 18 months ending June 30, Ameren and ComEd interests gave more than $400,000 to all but six members of the Senate. And in the three months after Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto, they gave more than $170,000 to state legislators and party organizations, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.
Chicago Sun-Times article from November 3, 2011.
Since Jan. 1, 2010, members of the General Assembly and their political organizations received more than $1.5 million from the utilities. Last week 98 legislators voted to override the veto, 71 voted against and eight voted present. All told, 177 legislators shared in the $1.5 million utility “contribution.” You do the math.
The McHenry County Blog obtained this information from a spreadsheet prepared by Campaign for Political Reform. Donations are for the 2011 calendar year through Oct. 18th. ComEd and Ameren got their rate hike and veto override on SB 1652 on Oct. 19. The Blog notes that there is a possibility of additional, last-minute contributions.
The blog lists the 2011 utility contributions to the 39 Senators who voted for Smart Grid.
It also notes a contribution to the Senate Democratic Victory Fund — $89,250 –and to the Republican State Campaign Committee — $42,650. The Democratic Party Senate campaign fund is controlled by Senate President John Cullerton. The Republican Party Senate campaign fund is run by Minority Leader Christine Radogno.
Here’s the McHenry County Blog’s list:
After the Senate override, Sun-Times editorial cartoonist Jack Higgins characterized Senators as yapping dogs jumping on a Commonwealth Edison lobbyist for monetary treats. Two who got more than most were singled out John Kass-style: "Dillard (R) Com Ed" and "Jacobs (D) Com Ed." Kirk even got a quote from the lobbyist: "Bad Kirk - Off my leg!"
- Radogno $38,000
- Kirk Dillard $19,000
- Mike Jacobs $16,750
- Dale Righter $13,930
- Antonio Munoz $13,850
- Don Harmon $11,500
- Toi Hutchinson $11,000
- James Meeks $11,000
- Bill Brady $9,500
- Annazette Collins $8,250
- A. J. Wilhemi $7,700
- Mattie Hunter $7,000
- Carole Pankau $6,350
- John Millner $6,050
- Donne Trotter $6,000
- John Jones $5,750
- Kimberly Lightford $5,500
- William Haine $5.450
- Terry Link $5,000
- Michael Noland $4,750
- Matt Murphy $4,250
- Pam Althoff $4,000
- David Leuchtefeld $3,358
- Kwame Raoul $2,500
- Sue Rezen $2,000
- Maggie Crotty $1,500
- John Cullerton $1,500
- Linda Holmes $1,250
- Iris Martinez $1,250
- Emil Jones, III $1,000
- William Delgado $1,000
- David Koehler $750
- Martin Sandoval $500
Did ComEd and Ameren pass out the money to ensure an ethical government? Do they honestly believe senators who pocketed the money were so honest and able that if they weren’t reelected it would be a disaster for the people of Illinois?
Did they give money in the hope that the senators would consider only the merits of SB1652 — free of all other considerations?
Did they give the money to induce them to vote against the bill?
Under the cartoon, the Sun-Times ran voting records and electric industry contributions for both Senators and House members. Click to enlarge.
Did they give the money to influence them to vote in favor of the bill, and subsequently to vote to override the governor’s veto? Or did they simply give the money because these were the best senators money could buy?
And how generous does the contribution have to be to buy a legislator’s vote?
Every senator, of course, would deny he was influenced by campaign donations. But what is the appearance? Does it look like an attempted bribe? Does it smell like a one?
If any judge in Illinois took even a $1,000 campaign contribution from any litigant before his court, he would properly be removed from the bench and indicted for corruption. Why should the rule be different for senators or representatives?
Back in the 1990s I wrote lyrics for a song for a Gridiron show, to the tune of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” It was in an era of Illinois judges being arrested for corruption; the days of “Operation Greylord.” My lyrics:
“When a judges take’s bribes that’s shocking.
Such graft sets the courthouse rocking,
to jail he goes, as “Greylord” shows.
“But when the cash is thrown at Congress
All rules are trashed and largess is apropos.
As everyone knows.
“Though “bribes” are still crimes these days
there are “gentler” ways
To describe outlays
that the lobbyist pays
Inside the beltways
To influence the ways
That his client’s bill should go.
“When “bribes” become “campaign donations”
These artful equivocations augment cash flows.
Until the voters clean up this cesspool in Springfield, they deserve whatever the Legislature chooses to do to them. Does anyone out there care?
John Donald O’Shea of Moline is a retired circuit court judge.