Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cash for (and against) Con Con

I must admit; it makes me squirmish to be on the side of “big money.”

But if an Illinois Campaign for Political Reform study released this week is at all accurate, then that would appear to be the case.

THE ISSUE AT stake is “Con Con.”

Translated into English, that’s the need for a Constitutional Convention in Illinois. If it happens, it would be the sixth time in the state’s history that the constitution faced a serious rewrite.

Under Illinois law, voters periodically get the chance to decide whether the constitution should face a thorough review. One of those chances (the first in two decades) will come next week.

All Illinois voters (after casting their vote for or against Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and representative, a legislator, and countless numbers of judges) will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” to the idea of a Constitutional Convention – which if it were to be held would consist of picking two people to represent each of Illinois’ 59 state Senate districts at a gathering in Springfield.

I’VE MADE IT clear previously that I will be among those people voting against the idea. My opposition is largely due to the fact that many of the people with pet issues that the Legislature has been unwilling to consider want to rewrite the state Constitution to change the rules, so to speak, so as to make it easier for their pet causes to get passed into law.

I’m a firm believer that the document itself is fine. It is the government officials who are flawed, and these people who are pushing for a “Con Con” would be better off putting their time and energy into trying to dump their incumbents.

In short, I don’t want to see long-term damage done to Illinois government just because somebody is miffed that their pet issue (such as the people who want recall elections in Illinois – another concept that I oppose) can’t get a majority support under the current rules.

Now the Chicago-based group that monitors all those financial disclosure records and maintains a website that tries to make all the information from those reports much easier to comprehend, says it does not have a stance on the concept of “Con Con,” although I wouldn’t be surprised if many of its members privately support the concept and plan to vote “yes” next Tuesday.

BUT THE GROUP released a new summary this week that is meant to show just how the big money interests that try to influence the Illinois Legislature are among the big financial supporters of efforts to turn out the vote against a “Con Con.”

Their study notes the creation of a group called the Alliance to Protect the Constitution, which has managed to raise $1.2 million since July, with $440,000 coming from five groups.

The biggest of those is the Illinois Federation of Teachers (the parent organization of the Chicago Teachers Union), which reports coming up with $300,000 for the "anti-Con Con" effort.

The teachers’ federation and its affiliates are a political player on the Springfield Scene. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform notes they are the third-biggest donors ($558,000) to the individual legislators (although much of that money was given to funds controlled by the four legislative leaders – who then dole it out as they see fit to the rank-and-file legislators).

THE ILLINOIS EDUCATION Association is also a big player ($225,000 to the "anti-Con Con" effort and $877,000 to the legislators – the top donor) on both lists.

I’m sure some will want to see this as an effort by legislative supporters to kill a project ("Con Con") that could potentially have negative impact on the General Assembly’s membership.

But the two labor unions related to educators across the state are hardly the types to support establishment-related projects in Springfield.

Both are among the more liberal-minded of interest groups that pay attention to the Statehouse Scene, to the point where Republicans usually complain about their excessive influence over Democrats. The two groups also are usually the bigger financial supporters of the types of legislators who usually gain the support of the good-government types who join groups like the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

FOR WHAT IT’S worth, the other really big financial supporters of the "anti-Con Con" effort are Exelon ($100,000), the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity ($92,500), and the American Insurance Association and Health Care Services Corp. (both tied for fifth with $50,000).

Exelon and the American Insurance Association have just the opposite perspective of the teachers’ unions. They usually are financially supportive of more ideologically conservative government officials.

If it sounds like I think there’s a bi-partisan element to the “Con Con” opposition, I wouldn’t want to trivialize the issue with such a simple-minded statement. After all, a lot of these groups are operating out of their own self-interest – preferring not to have to deal with learning a new set of rules in mid-game.

But it does strike me that there are people with differing perspectives on much of the business that comes before state government who see some logic to the idea that the Constitution itself is not the problem in Illinois.

I ALSO HAVE to wonder about the bit of political spin that the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform put into its own statement announcing the results of its new study. They noted that the two groups most active in trying to get people to vote “yes” for a Constitutional Convention – “Con Con Yes” and “Metro Chicago United PAC” – have raised a total of $5,000.

In short, it’s not like this is a fair fight.

The "anti-Con Con" people have the kind of cash to stir up significant opposition through the use of media campaigns and stunts to persuade people to vote “no” when they get to the end of their ballot.

Why else would former Gov. Jim Edgar and one-time Edgar gubernatorial opponent Dawn Clark Netsch (remember 1994?) be working together these days to encourage people to vote “no” on "Con Con?"

BY COMPARISON, THE "pro-Con Con" people will just have the concept of an anti-incumbent sentiment that runs through many would-be voters, hoping that a majority will be willing to vote “yes” even if they don’t fully comprehend exactly what it is they’re voting in favor of.

So what’s the case? Are the "anti-Con Con" people a bi-partisan group of people from both sides of the political equation, or are they a batch of big bucks bullies willing to push around the will of the people?


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is trying to educate people (http://www.ilcampaign.org/concon.asp) about the upcoming vote on “Con Con.”

Barack Obama’s birth state and adopted home state both are considering whether they (http://www.starbulletin.com/news/20081027_foes_of_concon_fear_horse_trading.html) need to make changes to their states’ constitutions.

Arguments to be made both for (http://www.southtownstar.com/news/mcqueary/1240338,102608mcqueary.article) and against (http://www.jg-tc.com/articles/2008/10/24/opinion/letters/doc48fbc4a5d22d6924627089.txt) holding yet another Constitutional Convention in Illinois.

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