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Time to Take the For Sale Sign Off our Government

Date: 
04/17/2012

By William McNary, Citizen Action/Illinois Co-Director and Illinois Campaign Finance Task Force Member

Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Either we may have a democracy or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”  There is a public perception that special interests are purchasing public policy outcomes.

Illinoisans are angry and we have a right to be angry.  People feel like they are losing control of their lives and that they have no power over decisions that affect their lives.

The state of Illinois is billions of dollars in debt.  Vendors and small businesses go unpaid.  Needed services slashed.  Jobs cut.  And our legislators say, “Sorry we’re broke.  There’s nothing we can do.”  Then CME Group Inc., which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade shows up threatening to leave the state if they don’t get what they want.  And all of a sudden, we find $70 million to give away to this one corporation.  It is time we returned to a government of, for and by the people, not a government bought and paid for by the corporations and the special interests.

This is a democracy and our elected officials should be accountable to the people who elected them and not the corporations that purchase public policy outcomes that benefit them.  It’s time we took the “For Sale” sign off our government so that it works for the working class, the middle class and low-income Illinoisans.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone used to quote St. Augustine.  “Hope has two beautiful daughters.  Their names are Anger and Courage.  Anger at the way things are.  Courage to make things the way they ought to be.”  If conservatives hate government in theory and liberals hate it in practice, is it any wonder that no one wants to pay taxes.  So as we continue to fight for change, let’s bring both of our beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage.

In conclusion, let me say that the state of Illinois faces two crises.  There is a deficit crisis with the state billions of dollars in debt.  This has hampered the government’s ability to fund our state’s education, health care, public safety and human service needs.  But there is also an ethics crisis. This second crisis has paralyzed the public trust and the government’s ability to work on behalf of the public interest.

One way to begin raising hopes –to begin to ensure that pay-to-play scandals stop haunting the halls of the capitol again – is to adopt a clean elections voluntary option for public financing.  The election process is the cornerstone of our democracy and the chase for campaign funds should not undermine its integrity.  All voices in our democratic process should be heard and invited to participate.  Big money contributors should not be rewarded with special access or disproportionate influence.