Ethics Push Rings Hollow to Some Officials Say Big-Bucks Fund-Raiser Undercuts Governor's Credibility in Touting Reforms

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Byline: Eric Krol Daily Herald Political Writer

Two different scenes in state government Thursday provided quite a contrast on ethics and campaign finance reform.

In the afternoon, a panel of senators pondered how to fix Illinois' new ethics law after finding out that 25 state employees have been fired since it was enacted 18 months ago, but the law prohibits them from telling the public why they were dismissed.

In the evening, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich stood in the marble halls of the Field Museum near Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex and posed for pictures with political donors who just had just written his campaign fund checks for $10,000 and more, despite his call last month to limit such donations to $1,000.

That disconnect did not go unnoticed by lawmakers from both parties and a campaign finance watchdog group who each said Blagojevich's big-bucks fund-raiser severely undercuts his credibility in pushing reforms to the way elections are funded in Illinois.

"Everybody has their own style. If he is going to put out legislation that says there should be restrictions, it sends a very confusing message if he doesn't adhere to that himself," said Democratic state Sen. Susan Garrett of Lake Forest. "I think strong leadership would require that he would practice what he preaches."

Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale also used the word "confused."

"The public has to be confused by the governor, who says one thing on ethics and in reality delivers something else," said Dillard, noting the "fanfare" with which Blagojevich signed the ethics law. "The perception of Rod Blagojevich as a phony when it comes to ethics and campaign reform has clearly now gotten out to the public."

A Blagojevich campaign spokesman said the governor is playing by existing rules and to limit his donations would amount to disarming himself in a political arena where money is required to get out his message of accomplishments.

"We're going to have to adhere to the Republican rules even as we try to change them," said campaign spokesman Pete Giangreco, dismissing the notion the governor's fund-raiser was hypocritical.

Blagojevich issued his call for campaign finance reform - including the $1,000 cap on individual donations - last month with little time left in the legislative session following months of stories that showed links between those who've donated to his campaign fund and those his administration has awarded taxpayer- funded contracts and appointments to state boards and commissions. …