The woman sitting beside me at Wednesday’s forum gripped the written program. It bore photographs of the 10 aspirants in the March 20 primary for Illinois attorney general. As they debated, she carefully jotted notes in the margins.
No wonder she needs a scorecard, I mused at the candidates’ forum hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
On the stage sat eight Democratic candidates: Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, state Rep. Scott Drury, Nancy Rotering, the mayor of Highland Park, state Sen. Kwame Raoul, Jesse Ruiz, president of the Chicago Park District Board, Sharon Fairley, former head of Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability; and criminal trial lawyer Aaron Goldstein.
Joining the crowd were two Republicans, Erika Harold, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Miss America, and Gary Grasso, the former mayor of Burr Ridge and DuPage County Board member.
You may need a scorecard, but some things stick out about the Democratic front-runner, Kwame Raoul. Things like the $100,000 Raoul accepted from tobacco-related interests. And the thousands more from utility companies and red-light camera operators. His campaign finance chairman is Neil Bluhm, the billionaire real estate and casino magnate.
The veteran African American legislator jumped in early with a big fund-raising push. He touts a raft of legislative policy wins. Raoul enjoys overwhelming support from Democratic Party heavies and the unions. His polished ads incessantly remind us, Raoul holds the state Senate seat formerly occupied by Barack Obama.
The scorecard also shows that Raoul has raked in $2.38 million in campaign contributions, far outstripping his competition.
Big Tobacco, Big Utilities, the red light cameras and casinos industries, are all eager to lay big bucks on the man who could be Illinois’ next chief law enforcement officer. That person will be charged with monitoring and policing the national tobacco settlement.
Last week Pat Quinn started running ads on black radio that blast Raoul for saying that Big Tobacco, utilities and red light camera operators “won’t play a role” in how he handles their business as attorney general.
“With all that campaign cash, do you think Kwame Raoul is going to stand up for you, or them?” the narrator asks.
She adds: “With all those conflicts of interest Kwame Raoul can’t be trusted to be on our side as attorney general.”
Raoul’s campaign responded that Quinn accepted money from the same industries in previous campaigns.
Raoul has argued, repeatedly, that he has a “100 percent” anti-tobacco voting record. Trust me, he says.
“I’m not for sale. It’s as simple as that,” he said at Wednesday’s forum.
It’s not that simple.
The retiring attorney general leaves with an accomplished record. Yet Lisa Madigan’s four terms were haunted by legitimate questions about her independence from party powers, especially her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
It’s a new era. Mike Madigan’s ultra-long grip on power, allegations of pay to play and sexual harassment, and decades of corruption in Illinois politics beg for a higher standard.
It is time to raise the bar for ethics in state government.
Illinois deserves a conflict-free attorney general. Then we won’t need a scorecard to keep him or her honest.
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