Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Take a Bite Out of Corruption

By Shawn Healy
On Wednesday evening, the Freedom Museum, in partnership with the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Illinois Press Association, hosted a program on the political corruption that permeates the state. I moderated a panel that included Professor Dick Simpson of UIC, John Chase of the Chicago Tribune, Terry Pastika of the Citizen Advocacy Center, and Cynthia Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Simpson highlighted historic corruption in the state, county, and city, and introduced the second of two studies on the subject, this one titled "The Depth of Corruption in Illinois." Chase covered former Governor Rod Blagojevich for six years and recounted the series of events that lead to his impeachment and removal from office (read his political obituary for Blagojevich here), but also pointed to the fact that he is merely symptomatic of the corrupt politics that pervade the state.

Pastika referenced a March report that her organization compiled, titled the Midwest Open Government Project. It focuses specifically on the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts in select states, including Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Illinois ranks poorly on both counts, and Pastika recommends pursuit of the related measures embedded in the Illinois Reform Commission's 100 Day Report.

Canary testified before the so-called Quinn Commission on February 23 and stands as a leading voice in favor of comprehensive campaign finance reform in the state. Calling Illinois "the Wild West of political ethics and campaign finance practices," Canary is pushing for contribution limits, more transparency, and a transition toward public financing of campaigns.

Several of the 60 audience members in attendance asked how they could take part in the process of pushing for wholesale changes to the way the State of Illinois conducts business. Canary said we should call or write our state legislators (the ICPR has the tools on its web site) and pressure them to consider the various elements of the Quinn Commission Report. Given the dearth of citizen response, a dozen or so letters can spur action, according to Canary. Pastika and Chase both stressed the power of letters to the editor of local newspapers, and Simpson asked us to take one step further. Organize large groups of people, he suggests, and travel to Springfield to interact face-to-face with our elected officials.

The window of opportunity may be closing as the spring legislative session comes to a close at the end of May. There are indications that some of the recommended reforms are already being cast aside, and that reform-related legislation is being drafted and debated behind closed doors. Our panelists unanimously agreed that the time for citizens of the state to act is now.

Click here to read the Midwest Democracy Network's coverage of the program.


Anonymous Leah Rush said...

Thanks, Freedom Museum, for bringing this event together! To create a healthy economy, good jobs, access to health care and quality schools we must a have a well-functioning political system in Illinois.

Check out the Midwest Democracy Network's post and photos from the forum:

4:30 PM  

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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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