Friday, November 21, 2003

Full House rolls over -- what is Madigan trying to get?

So the full House of Representatives passed the "let Bush exploit 9/11" bill, 84-21-4. The roll call is here.

The dirty part of the bill (yes, even dirtier than having Dems working for the Bush campaign by allowing them to get away with their September NYC political rally without any negative fallout whatsoever) is an apparent provision that lets the State Board of Elections waive as much as $700,000 in fees assessed against political committees that failed to file their campaign finance reports in a timely matter (or at all). Most of those fines -- still out there -- are against Democrats. A few are against Republican committees. A good chunk of them area apparently levied against Secretary of State Jesse White's committees.

So, the deal might have been, Mike Madigan gives the Bush campaign a free pass on their 9/11 convention in exchange for GOP support for getting rid of these fines against primarily Dem committees.

No one really knows, because the Speaker doesn't tell most of his caucus members the rationale behind legislation like this one. He just tells the members how to vote, and many of them do what he says. That's unhealthy, if you ask me. It's taking the concept of leadership and pushing it into obedience.

Anyway, the Chicago pension deal is in the mix as well. The legislation to let Chicago employees take early retirement is not something Republicans are too enthusiastic about, so there's some talk that the Bush bill is a trade for GOP support for the Chicago bill.

I heard (didn't see, so it's hearsay) that it all fell apart this afternoon in the Senate. Frank Watson, GOP leader in the Senate, objected to the repeal of fines for the Dem political committees (especially since that money would go to the state, which is broke). He apparently said that he'd pull the GOP caucus off of the Chicago pension bill unless the repeal of fines was stripped off the Bush bill. Senate President Jones apparently called his threat, and the pension bill died in the Senate (it needs a 3/5 vote because the effective date is immediate).

Now what I did see tonight was GOP suspicion about the repeal of the political fines. During debate on the ethics legislation (which is something that the General Assembly really did very well on, including and perhaps especially Speaker Mike Madigan) which passed tonight, one of the GOP senators (I think it was Kirk Dillard) asked if the repeal of the political fines was in the ethics bill. (It wasn't). And Senator Syverson from Rockford mentioned the irony of voting in the solid ethics legislation while they were about to vote on the unsavory repeal of the elections fines.

Now, if that is the deal that Madigan cut (Bush on the ballot for repeal of the fines), then that's a pretty dumb deal. $500,000? For political committees that admittedly broke the law? Come on. Madigan could have gotten so much more. The Republican National Committee is apparently breathing down Judy Baar Topinka's neck (the state treasurer and the state GOP chairwoman) to get this legislation. Madigan should be pushing for a new congressional map, as President Jones and Senator Cullerton introduced this week. Or something big. But to cut a deal to repeal fines for some committees? Small change.

Now, in Madigan's defense, the GOP could just sue to put Bush on the ballot, and they'd win since there are lots of Republican federal judges (and as Bush v. Gore proved, these Republicans are relentless, especially in the judiciary). And that would leave Madigan without anything to negotiate with to pass the legislation. Plus, he's saving the state the litigation costs.

However, the state GOPers seem convinced they need to pass the legislation, so even if they could successfully sue, they don't believe it. So Madigan could extract a whole lot more.

And more importantly, he and the Dems can help to show how ruthless the Bush campaign has been -- they intentionally violate state law just to exploit 9/11 in New York City. Let Bush sue. Make him look bad. Get a national platform to say that it is inappropriate to hold a political rally in New York City in September. Help to reframe the GOP convention as a too-slick-by-half, win-at-all-costs dishonorable thing.

I'm hopeful the Senate Dems, who will apparently convene tomorrow (Friday) to decide what to do with the bill, will extract much, much more from the GOPers or even better, won't pass this bill. I hope they won't give the Bush campaign an easy time of it.

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