Friday, September 30, 2005

George and Me

(If you don't like long posts, don't even bother starting to read this one. But I think that it's worthwhile.)

So this is a tricky post to write, but it's something that I've been wanting to weigh in on, so here goes. As the trial of Governor Ryan gets underway, I've read a lot of comments on Rich Miller's blog and numerous other sites discussing George Ryan the person and whether or not he was a culpable participant that knowingly broke the law or simply a back-slapper that went along with helping his pals.

Being a firm believer in our legal system, I agree that Gov. Ryan is presumed innocent. And unless you are seated in the jury box, none of us is in a position to cast an worthwhile opinion on whether or not that presumption is accurate. So instead, I will just share with you my experiences with the man when it came to the issue of campaign finance reform.

George Ryan never liked me. Probably still doesn't. Here's part of the reason why. You make whatever judgment you deem appropriate.

In the mid 1990's, before my election to the House, Pat Quinn had been working with some legislators in trying to push a bill known as the Inspector Solicitation Misconduct Act. Without going into all of the details, suffice it to say that the bill prevented state inspectors from seeking campaign contributions from individuals or entities whom they oversee. The bill was borne of a series of news stories about car dealers being shaken down by inspectors on behalf of the Secretary of State. But when you realize that state inspectors oversee everything from driving schools to day care centers to nursing homes to nuclear facilities, the public safety and public health implications of cutting the ties between fundraising and inspection approval become clear.

Even though Democrats controlled the House, the bill was killed in committee after all of the Republicans voted against it, as did a couple Democrats wanting to 'help out George'. Quinn tried several times to push for passage of the bill to no avail.

Quinn apprised me of the legislation in 1998. Having been working on other pieces of reform legislation, I was interested in pursuing this worthwhile initiative. That year, there was a heated election for Governor brewing between Ryan and Glenn Poshard. News outlets were buzzing about stories concerning licenses for bribes and whether Ryan was the target of an investigation. I thought that the time was right to get some leverage on my issue.

On October 21, 1998, about two weeks before the election, I faxed a letter to both men seeking their support of the measure. The letter reads in relevant part, as follows:

Dear Gentlemen:

I am sending this letter to you to advise you of proposed legislation that I am announcing at a press conference this morning. The legislation, entitled the “State Inspector Misconduct Act”, would prohibit state agency employees responsible for oversight of businesses or activities in the State from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions on behalf of a candidate or political committee from any person or business regulated by that agency.

As you are aware, state inspectors oversee a wide range of activities ranging from nursing homes to day care centers to landfills. I trust that you would agree with me that there should be no link between public safety and political fundraising. Even the appearance of such a nexus is enough to undermine public confidence in our state government.

Accordingly, I am respectfully asking each of you to join me in supporting this measure, thereby letting the people of Illinois know that their next governor will lead in a manner in which they can trust and have respect.

Thank you both for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Best wishes on November 3rd.

In my opinion, it would have been smart for Poshard to get on board to further drive home the issue in the public mind. But at the same time, I thought it would be smart for Ryan to support it in an effort to get out in front of the issue and take the bat out of his critics' hands.

That afternoon, Poshard called me himself to tell me that, if elected, he would do everything in his power to get the bill to his desk. A couple of hours later, Scott Fawell called me and before even saying hello, blurted out "What the f**k are you doing?" I'll leave the rest of the conversation alone, although it was colorful.

So George won and I was persona non grata in the Governor's office for the next four years. And although I had managed to pass the bill out of the House almost unanimously, (I still respect the Speaker letting the bill out of Rules), Pate had no intention of letting it move in the Senate.

After repeating my futile efforts, and with media pressure still building about license for bribes and the Guzman/Willis matter, I decided to again try to plea my case to the Governor. Since he wouldn't return my repeated phone calls, I sent him a letter on the subject. The following is my June, 2000 letter to Gov. Ryan (I omitted a paragraph that describes what the bill does in more detail):
Dear Governor Ryan:

For too long now, the news has been overrun, and Illinois’ reputation tarnished, by the scandal surrounding the activities of the Office of the Secretary of State. Because I am hopeful that you share my belief that something must be done to address both the substantive issue as well as skyrocketing public cynicism of State government, I am sending this letter to you in an attempt to enlist your support for legislation that I have successfully worked to pass out of the House of Representatives during each of the past two legislative sessions by a near unanimous margin.

In essence, House Bill 530, the “State Inspector Misconduct Act”, would prohibit state agency employees responsible for oversight of businesses or activities in the State from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions on behalf of a candidate or political committee from any person or business regulated by that agency. The logic and need underlying this concept are beyond question.

As you are aware, state inspectors oversee a wide variety of activities ranging from drivers license facilities and nursing homes to day care centers and landfills. Given this fact, House Bill 530 is every bit a public safety measure as it is a campaign finance reform issue. One need to look no further than to the grief of the Willis family to fully comprehend the devastation that can occur when our regulatory measures are circumvented for financial motivations. (Emphasis added)

I trust that you would agree with me that there should be no link between public safety and political fundraising. Even the appearance of such a nexus has proven to be more than enough to undermine public confidence in our state government. Despite this, and the unequivocal message sent by the House, the Senate has failed to take any action to advance this measure to your desk. Accordingly, I am respectfully asking you to publicly support this measure, specifically by calling for its passage by the Senate during the upcoming Veto Session, and working to secure the same

Thank you for your time, consideration, and anticipated assistance. I look forward to hearing from you.

The Governor's response? When a couple of my colleagues went to see him the next day on an unrelated matter, Ryan held up the letter and stated, "Look what this c**ksu*ker sent me." I don't know about you, but those words just didn't really strike me as the words of a guy wanting to 'get to the bottom of corruption', as he was fond of telling the press those days. He never responded to me personally. Probably for the best.

The point of this whole post? While I am sure that George is a great guy to have as a friend, you would be sorely mistaken to think that he was unaware of what was going on in state government or to think that he wanted it corrected. He was very content with the way things were, and directly or through associates, he lashed out at anybody who tried to mess those things.

As for my bill, it took me two more years to get it done, but it's Public Act 92-853. I believe it was the last bill of the last regular session under George Ryan to become law. And not a moment too soon.

21 Comments:

At September 30, 2005 at 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats Rep. Fritchey. This is exactly why your blog is invaluable. Everybody seems to have formed an opinion about Gov. Ryan based on second-hand accounts. But to have a first-hand confirmation of how this guy acted is great. You have my respect for your service and your blog, and if you ever run statewide, you will also have my vote.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks John.

For too long we see Ryan smiling in front of cameras. The public needs to hear more stories like this to truly understand the man behind the smile.

I only hope you don't many stories like this involving Rod.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 9:06 AM, Blogger drone1047 said...

Good post. But from a blogging point of view...man, you could have done a whole week on the topic with that much info.

Good job though.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 9:34 AM, Anonymous Capitol Watcher said...

WOW. As disturbing as some of that is too read, I now feel completely reassured that I was right in thinking that the capital punishment stuff was a ruse. Go get Fitzgerald!

 
At September 30, 2005 at 9:35 AM, Anonymous Capitol Watcher said...

I meant, Go get HIM Fitzgerald!

 
At September 30, 2005 at 9:35 AM, Blogger Rich Miller said...

Good stuff, Fritchey. Nice story. Well-written.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 9:54 AM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

Thanks Rich, I really appreciate that.

And drone, you're right, I could have stretched it out, but as I was writing it late last night, it just kind of kept going. I think that it was some type of cathartic exercise.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 10:00 AM, Blogger Angry Jolietan said...

fascinating stuff, good read.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure GRyan's final actions would have been roughly the same, but having negotiated support for similarly sensitive political matters, dontcha think that a conversation with a key ally would have been better than a detailed letter with lots of rhetoric that sounds like a press release? I can't help but think that if you really wanted his support for the bill, you would have tried to position it a little better through someone you both trust (a Republican house colleague, for example).

My point is that at least some of GRyan's reaction to your efforts can be attributed to what could clearly be perceived as an attempt to corner him.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 10:32 AM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

I assure you that I tried countless channels to get his office on board with the bill. As you may be aware, I work with a number of legislators on both side of the aisle and in both chambers.

My efforts were not met with indifference by Ryan's office, they were met with disdain and repeated entreaties to get me to just drop the issue.

The concept underlying the bill is so fundamental that most people were shocked that it wasn't already law.

The reality was that the bill was going to undermine a tried and true channel for fundraising that in fact jeopardized the public safety and welfare, and bastardized the Illinois political system.

They did NOT want change. It took EIGHT years to get the bill passed, and even then, it didn't happen until public pressure and media attention essentially demanded it.

I give them zero benefit of the doubt on this issue. Neither should you.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 2:36 PM, Blogger drone1047 said...

I just re-read it. I changed my mind: it is an epic that needs to be told all at once.

And honestly, I always thought you were one of the good ones...now I'm sure of it.

 
At September 30, 2005 at 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a good thing I heard this story off-the-record, because I would've gobbled it in one giant bite and run it and stolen your thunder.

One thing you gotta love about Fritchey: brass balls. Writing that letter was BRASS BALLS.

-rc

 
At October 2, 2005 at 6:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know something John? You have alway been a blow hard. Why didn't you expose this to the press way back when? You do it now to make yourself look good. That is John Fritchey--a hack lawyer getting rich doing city zoning cases in front of Banks' committee. I think it is time the press starts to expose you.

 
At October 2, 2005 at 6:54 PM, Blogger respectful said...

anon 6:49: Is it a good bill or not? If you agree it's a good bill, as I do, then you've got to give the sponsor credit for sticking with it for 8 years. Unless, as I expect, you're a chronic critic who doesn't believe Fritchey can do anything worthwhile.

 
At October 2, 2005 at 6:55 PM, Blogger respectful said...

It would be instructive to see the voting history on John's bills. I'm curious to know which legislators who are still there voted to continue letting inspectors fundraise.

 
At October 2, 2005 at 7:06 PM, Blogger respectful said...

HB 530 passed the House unanimously on 3-17-99. It didn't get out of Rules in the Senate.

 
At October 2, 2005 at 7:36 PM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

6:49, if you want to take a shot at me, at least know what the hell you're talking about. I was publicly out in front of this issue since 1998. Hell, the first letter that I put in the post indicated that I was doing a press conference on the issue. And I was all over the Governor and Pate for not letting it out for YEARS. I was out there by myself, with Quinn, with the BGA, with anybody willing to speak out. Which by the way, did not include many legislators whatsoever.

If you were brave enough to give me your e-mail address (which I won't hold my breath for), I would be happy to show you how the issue was covered in the Trib, Sun-Times, Journal-Register, Crains, and many more.

As for the rest of your vapid post, I am proud to have consistently received the higest possbile peer review rating for my legal practice. So forgive me if I am not overly concerned about your clueless critique of my skills.

You will be unable to find one community organization to say that I have ever handled a case with less than the highest professional standards.

Feel free to review any of the work I have done, I would be happy to provide you full access to the files. Oh, I can't because you will only cast your stones from behind a shield of anonymity.

As for me being rich, unfortunately you're wrong yet again. I willingly take a significant paycut to do this job and only regret it when having to respond to individuals such as yourself.

Interesting though that you have nothing substantive to say about the facts that I posted though. When I started this blog, I knew that there would be people just wanting to criticize me for the heck of it, but I didn't think that they would be this clueless to what they were talking about.

 
At October 2, 2005 at 7:44 PM, Anonymous Policy Wonk said...

The version of the bill that passed was HB4680, which passed with dissenting votes by Bob Ryan and Roger Marquardt in the House. In the Senate, Denny Jacobs voted against it and six others voted present. I think that it was coupled with the gift ban language at that time which makes it even more surprising that people actually voted against it.

 
At October 2, 2005 at 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the Rep. went to Michigan and then to Northwestern for law school and he's a hack? I'm sure that's why Northwestern also had him teaching there.

It is so tiring to read people taking anonymous cheap shots at people, especially Rep. Fritchey on this issue. The guy's done more on ethics and campaign finance reform than any legislator in decades. And as one of his colleagues (and no I'm not a fellow Democrat), I know what I'm talking about, unlike the earlier poster.

Keep it up John, I know it must be frustrating at times, but readers can tell the difference between intelligent posts and garbage.

 
At October 3, 2005 at 8:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

While I guess I respect your desire to be fair to everybody, why even bother to leave posts like 6:49's up on the board? They are a waste of everybody's time to read, add nothing, and can only be a distraction to you.

I thought that your Ryan post was phenomenal, one of the newspapers should run it in its entirety to give the public a look at the real George Ryan.

Keep up the great work. Here and in the Legislature.

 
At October 12, 2005 at 9:34 PM, Blogger Levois said...

Wow. I'm not sure what to think.

 

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