Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Is Play Time Over?

By Shawn Healy
It has been nearly two weeks since the Illinois Senate took the unprecedented step of removing the sitting Governor, Rod Blagojevich, from office. Whether the criminal charges levied against him are an aberration, or systematic of pervasive corruption throughout state politics is a matter of intense debate. Coupled with this tension is a desire by state residents to nip the pay-to-play schemes like that allegedly orchestrated by Blagojevich in the proverbial bud. What exists is a "policy window" where consensus among several groups, namely elected officials, selected interest groups, and most notably the general public, presents a unique opportunity for changes to statewide ethics and campaign finance laws.

The Joyce Foundation commissioned a survey last month that highlights widespread disgust amongst state citizens with their political leaders in Springfield. A vast majority (78%) say that the state is on the wrong track, and for 81% of Illinoisans, trust in state government occurs only some of the time or not at all.

A majority (61%) believes that corruption is an "extreme" concern and express similar alarm about the role of money in the political process (54%). Similar numbers see Blagojevich's misdeeds as "common" among state lawmakers, with only 39% viewing these reported shenanigans as "unusual" or "extreme."

Two-thirds of those surveyed would like to see the creation of a new state agency to enforce campaign finance laws, and also to spend more tax dollars to keep money out of politics.

More than three-quarters of state residents would like to see bans on donations from corporations (78%) and labor unions (76%), while 74% support limits on individual donations, too. Seventy-one percent would go so far as to support publicly financed campaigns as a means of rooting out corruption.

There is a willingness to hold legislators accountable for these desired actions, as 89% suggest that their representatives' actions toward reducing the role of money in politics will determine their re-election prospects. In a related sense, state residents express low approval for the state legislature and are cynical about the prospects of passing the aforementioned reforms.

Without doubt, the stars seemed to have aligned for comprehensive reform in the Land of Lincoln. A true political maverick in Pat Quinn now occupies the Governor's Mansion. Previous Blagojevich enabler Emil Jones has retired from his post as Senate President. John Cullerton has taken his place, and the venerable Michael Madigan remains the Speaker of the House. Neither of them are reformers and both are beholden to the local Democratic machine in Chicago, but they will have a difficult time turning back the tidal wave of sentiments held by an electorate promising to hold them and their fellow legislators accountable come 2010.

Cindi Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has long been a lonely voice in the face of a pay-to-play culture that has elevated the state to the laughingstock of the nation. This "wild west" environment may soon be tamed by the new sheriff in town. Through the determined voices of a relentless electorate, the citizens can collectively take their state back.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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