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updated: 11/4/2010 6:45 PM

Calling again for independence from party chiefs

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

If you're among the many suburban residents who live in one of the half-dozen or so hotly contested House districts, you got the mailers. Maybe you didn't examine them closely. We saw several from Democratic candidates touting their independence from powerful House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. And if you looked at the fine print, you saw the mailing was produced and paid for by the Democratic Party of Illinois, or one of the other committees controlled, of course, by Madigan himself.

Ah, the rich, rich irony.

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And so, here we are, in the wake of another election at the end of a cycle in which many of our incumbent state representatives and senators of both parties patted themselves on the back for getting rid of Rod Blagojevich and solving our ethics challenges. They patted themselves on the back at the very same time they and their candidacies were bought and paid for by Madigan or Democratic Senate President John Cullerton or House Republican Leader Tom Cross or Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

In an analysis released on Election Day, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said those four legislative leaders were responsible for two-thirds of the spending in 25 hot races around the state. The winning candidates in those competitive races owe their victories, literally, to their legislative leaders, not to those of us who voted for them.

In all but two of the hot suburban races, Democrats won. In a couple of them, Democratic leaders spent nearly twice what Republicans did, according to the ICPR. Winning Democrats in the majority in Springfield will feel even more compulsion to do what Madigan and Cullerton want them to because of all that money. And because those two men control what legislation will pass, what committee assignments they get, even what parking spaces they are assigned.

So the hope seems barely a glimmer that these rank-and-file Democrats will demand to make their own future candidacies much more difficult by limiting the amount of money legislative leaders and political party committees can give them. Yet, we must keep demanding exactly that. It's the only way average citizens can leverage any power and regain our voice.

Both Republican Bill Brady and Democrat Pat Quinn said they favored limiting leader and political committee contributions in general elections. So, we expect the next governor to work for that. Nine out of 10 candidates who completed a survey for the Change Illinois coalition pushing for leader limits said they supported it. This change can't happen through a ballot question. The state constitution won't allow it. We have to keep constant pressure on the majority Democrats to do what they said they believed and said they would do.

In the Northwest and West suburbs, the Democratic victors, or those leading in tight races, who told either the Daily Herald or Change Illinois that they support these limits include: Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin, and Reps. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates, Keith Farnham of Elgin, Jack Franks of Marengo, Elaine Nekritz of Glenview and Carol Sente of Vernon Hills. Schaumburg Democrat Michelle Mussman said she supports limits on leaders but not on parties, which, in essence, seems like no limit at all.

If these Democrats banded together with others and then worked with all the Republicans who claim to support limits, we could cap these controlling contributions. Legislative leaders still would have influence, but the candidates would actually have to seek financial support from the voters in their districts they say they want to serve. Now, that would be independent leadership.

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