Illinois politicians are running scared. That's the only explanation for Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of a campaign finance bill he once referred to as "landmark" legislation.
Even the leaders who spearheaded the bill, Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, were there to witness the veto of their handiwork and said they asked Quinn to veto it. They're scared, too.
What are they afraid of? Voters, who are fed up with "politics as usual" in this state and see through sham efforts at reform. They are afraid those voters will remember their meaningless words when they go to the polls next year.
If we can't put the fear of God - or federal prosecutors - into politicians, filling them with a fear of fed-up voters is even better.
House Bill 7 deserved the veto it received. The campaign finance "reforms" it contained were almost laughable.
Yes, it would have limited the amount of campaign contributions for the first time. But the limits fell far short of what had been recommended by Quinn's own Illinois Reform Commission and government-watchdog groups. The measure would have increased the power of party leaders and given incumbents advantages over challengers - two things Illinois doesn't need.
In vetoing the bill he once supported, Quinn said, "I think we can do better."
That's an understatement.
Quinn said he and legislative leaders need to go "back to the drawing board," but all they really need to do is go back to the report issued by the Reform Commission and reread the recommendations that begin on page 15.
Those recommendations cover enhanced disclosure of contributions and so-called independent expenditures, contribution limits that roughly follow the federal limits and expansion of the ban on pay-to-play contributions.
Change Illinois! - a coalition of groups pushing for ethics reforms - makes recommendations along the same lines. The coalition argues that limits should apply to all individual and political action committee contributions to candidates and parties; those limits should be based on election cycles, not the calendar year; contributions and expenditures should be disclosed frequently; and those overseeing enforcement of election laws need more resources.
If Quinn and Democratic leaders are serious about reform, they will include Republicans in the discussion and make this truly bipartisan - as when pay-to-play legislation was passed over former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto.
Keep the pressure on and watch what happens - or doesn't - in the fall veto session.
Voters must continue to hold politicians' feet to the fire of reform, including voting them out of office if they don't enact meaningful reforms.
On the Web
The Illinois Reform Commission's report is available at http://reformillinoisnow.org