It Takes More Than Just a Law
Below is a letter that was sent to all legislators by Dawn Clark Netsch, former State Senator, former Comptroller, and one of my former law school professors.
I think a lot of Dawn, but in her support of campaign contribution limit legislation (a bill on which I am a Chief Co-Sponsor), she makes a statement with which I simply can't agree - "We cannot get back on track without regulating the amounts and sources of the money that goes into electing our representatives in government."
Dawn Clark NetschWhile limits are unquestionably needed, people need to understand two things.
May 18, 2009
Dear Senator/RepresentativeSincerely, and best wishes,
Having spent 18 years as a member of the Senate, I am fully aware of the tensions and occasional chaos of the last few weeks of a legislative session—so many big issues to resolve and so many different approaches to how they should be resolved. But I also still feel strongly that it is important that the General Assembly emerge from the process with its credibility and integrity intact, that the voters believe that it has done its job well, however difficult the circumstances.
There is one issue that is critical to that outcome: reform of the culture of corruption that has damaged the standing and self-confidence of our state for too long. Addressing it is essential to our ability to deal rationally with the other problems facing us: horrendous budget deficits, economic development and jobs, unfunded pensions, healthcare needs, etc.
While there are many good proposals for reform pending—and I support most of them—there is one that is the rock-bottom essential first step, without which the goal of “reform” will not be taken seriously. And that one is campaign finance reform: strict and strictly enforced modest limits on campaign contributions by individuals, business, unions, PACs and all other political committees. I genuinely believe that we cannot get back on track without regulating the amounts and sources of the money that goes into electing our representatives in government.
For this reason, as both a frequent candidate and a frequent contributor to other candidates, I urge you—I plead with you—to enact campaign limits consistent with those reflected in Representative Harry Osterman’s HB24. They are reasonable, they will work, they are fair to candidates and parties alike, and, yes, we can live with the “millionaire” and independent expenditures challenges. Most importantly, it will go a long way to restoring confidence in an institution which I cherish and which all of Illinois wants to respect.
Dawn Clark Netsch
First, limits in no way take money out of politics. I could just roll out the 'look at Washington' line, but on a more personal note, I would point out that under the federal guidelines (which are more stringent than those proposed for Illinois), I raised about $750,000 in just over 6 weeks during my Congressional bid earlier this year. And while there is no question that contribution limits inherently limit the influence of any specific individual or entity, having gone through what it takes to raise that kind of money, I will say that it's all but certain that candidates will spend more time raising money, not less.
Second, no amount of laws are going to get us back on track in and of themselves. The countless individuals who have gone to prison didn't go there for doing things that common decency tells us that they shouldn't have done...They went there for violating laws already on the books. My point is not that we shouldn't pass long-overdue reform measures, of course we should. That includes limits, faster disclosure, and other related items.
Rather, my point is that we need to manage people's expectations so that they recognize that while good people won't do bad things even in the absence of laws, even the best of laws won't stop bad people from doing bad things.