Lawmakers and members of the Illinois Reform Commission sparred Friday over proposals to clean up state government, prompting some to suggest that Democrats are angling to avoid true reform.

Lawmakers and members of the Illinois Reform Commission sparred Friday over proposals to clean up state government, prompting some to suggest that Democrats are angling to avoid true reform.

"I think there are people who want the status quo to continue," said Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. "Those would be the people that have the majorities in this institution right now, the Democrats. They don't want to change it."

But Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said that's not the case. Lawmakers already have voted for significant reforms, he said, and with little more than a week until the scheduled end of the legislative session, there's time to do more.

"Everybody should just calm down, relax, take a breath," Cullerton said. "We have a potpourri of bills here, and we want to make sure we pass them."

On Friday, the Senate sent Gov. Pat Quinn two reform-related measures that cleared the House of Representatives a day earlier.

One proposal, Senate Bill 51, would tighten rules on the state's purchasing practices, with the intention of curbing the "pay-to-play" practice of awarding state business to the politically influential.

The other plan, Senate Bill 54, would revise the state Ethics Act, giving inspectors general greater authority to investigate allegations of state employees' misconduct and making public some of their findings. It also more strictly regulates lobbyists and requires them to file regular expense reports showing what they've spent in trying to influence legislation.

Still uncertain is what changes, if any, lawmakers will make to the state's wide-open campaign finance system. A Senate hearing has been set for Thursday, Cullerton said.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled their campaign finance plan, which would cap the amount of money that individuals, labor unions and other organizations could contribute to political candidates. At present, there are no contribution limits.

The Democrats' proposal is less sweeping than the recommendations the Illinois Reform Commission made last month. The commission called for setting a $2,400 cap on individual contributions and a $5,000 cap on other types of contributions for each election cycle.

The Senate Democrats' plan would allow individuals to contribute up to $5,000 to a candidate for statewide, legislative or local office every calendar year.

Corporations, associations, labor unions or other "non-candidate political committees" could donate up to $10,000 every calendar year.

The Reform Commission also recommended putting a stop to legislative leaders' ability to transfer large amounts of money out of their campaign funds to help specific political candidates. The Senate Democrats' plan doesn't include that provision.

Reform Commission Chairman Patrick Collins said limiting such transfers is key to reforming the campaign-finance system. Otherwise, he said, legislative leaders will become even more powerful.

The Reform Commission's overall agenda was dealt a setback on Friday when a Senate panel shot down all nine of the commission's enforcement-related proposals on investigating and prosecuting public corruption.

Among the failed measures: Expanding the wiretapping authority of state's attorneys and limiting judges' ability to hand down probation sentences in corruption cases.

Lawmakers on the panel repeatedly said they hadn't had enough time to study those recommendations.

But they approved a 10th proposal, which surfaced for the first time Friday and would require officials convicted of corruption to surrender their campaign funds.

The panel's quick approval of that idea, which later sailed through the full Senate on a 58-0 vote, angered Reform Commission members.
 
"What I just witnessed in there gives me grave concern about the fundamental fairness of this process," Collins said at a State Capitol news conference.

Another member, David Hoffman, suggested lawmakers were making "an attempt to have something - something - passed so that it's not just a 100 percent rejection of the Reform Commission, and the leadership is able to show something, anything."

But Cullerton defended the process as a fair one.

Collins said the commission would keep working with lawmakers during the remaining days of the legislative session, trying to achieve reform in campaign finance and other areas.

"We just have an enormous amount of work to do in the final week," said commission member Brad McMillan, executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University. "I'm going to remain positive and hopeful that on the big issues, we can get some reform passed before the end of May."

McMillan said Reform Commission members would seek state officials' assurance about scheduling a special legislative session in September to consider overhauling Illinois' much-criticized redistricting process, which redraws legislative boundaries every 10 years. Commission members also want lawmakers to conduct hearings on the subject this summer and vote by this fall on some kind of revised restricting plan.

Ryan Keith contributed to this report. Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com