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Blagojevich Ignites Pay-to-Play Firestorm in Illinois

It seems as if the rancor over “pay-to-play” reaches a fever pitch once every few years. In years past, “pay-to-play” scandals have rocked state houses in New Jersey, Connecticut, and South Carolina, just to name a few. Inevitably, such scandal leads to a public outcry for legislation to address the inappropriate and illegal activities that weaken the public trust, and waste the public’s money. Unfortunately, much of the legislation that is quickly passed by well-intentioned state legislatures does not fully contemplate the unreasonable, and often unnecessary, impact that such legislation will have on the private sector.

2008-2009 have been particularly bad years for “pay-to-play” scandals. Specifically, “pay-to-play” has been dominating headlines and public sentiment since late 2008 when Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich attempted to “sell” President Barack Obama’s empty senate seat to the highest contributor. His pick to fill that seat, Sen. Roland W. Burris, is also under investigation.  Burris implicated himself with the statement that he would “personally do something” for Blagojevich’s campaign fund if he were appointed.  Blagojevich was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury and sent packing, but the fire was already lit. That fire is“pay-to-play” legislation, and it has spread quickly across the nation.

It’s true that the idea of “pay-to-play” isn’t really a new one, and it has always been established that government favors, much less political seats, are not to be bought in America. But the changes have been coming at a more rapid pace recently. As public outcry has increased, so has the pressure for lawmakers to do something about it.

Nowhere has the outcry to “do something” been greater than in Illinois. In September 2008, then-Gov. Blagojevich originally vetoed pay-to-play legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly and subsequently issued Executive Order 3. Ironically, Executive Order 3 actually contained broader pay-to-play restrictions than the vetoed legislation, primarily because Executive Order 3 differed from the passed legislation in that it significantly restricted contributions to members of the Illinois General Assembly. The General Assembly subsequently passed a new pay-to-play statute to override the Blagojevich veto. The end result of this legislative in-fighting was incongruent legislation which left entities attempting to comply with Illinois law little guidance.

Shortly after taking office, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued Executive Order 09-09, which repealed Blagojevich’s Executive Order 3. As such, the General Assembly’s legislation remains in place. Specifically, the current “pay-to-play” statute prohibits contributions to state executive officers and candidates by state contractors and their political action committees, the company’s affiliates, 7.5% owners and executive employees of the company, and their spouses and minor children. This restriction is generally in place from the date of the request for proposal (“RFP”) to the day after the contract ends. For current contractors, no covered contributions may be made for the term of the incumbent that awarded the contract, or two years after the contract ends, whichever is longer. It should be noted that even a single violation can void a contract, and that a three year ban may be levied on businesses that have three or more violations of this provision with a 36-month period.4

Further, an entity must disclose the names and addresses of all covered donors. This disclosure must be amended within two days of any change, or within ten days if the there are no pending proposals. Of note is that an automatic $1,000 per day penalty is triggered for a failure to disclose all such contributors.

Blagojevich Ignites Pay-to-Play Firestorm in Illinois