For vetoing a lousy measure he called “landmark legislation” just a couple of months earlier, we applaud Gov. Pat Quinn. And we urge him to push for real campaign finance reform during the veto session this fall.

For vetoing a lousy measure he called “landmark legislation” just a couple of months earlier, we applaud Gov. Pat Quinn. And we urge him to push for real campaign finance reform during the veto session this fall.

Quinn last week performed what had to be a first in Illinois politics, according to Jim Bray of Change Illinois!, an advocacy group for ethics in government.

A governor testified in both House and Senate committees as to the “landmark” nature of a campaign finance bill, which was really more nonsense than reform. The bill passed in both chambers. Then the governor vetoed the bill with all four legislative leaders at his side, commending him for the veto.

“We commend him for listening to the people,” Bray said in an e-mail to the Editorial Board.

So do we.

Ultimately Quinn must have come to the epiphany that Illinoisans, so alienated from politics, deserved better. We hope so.

We expected more from lawmakers. You would think that in the light of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, impeachment and removal from office, lawmakers would have come up with something more reasonable than House Bill 7. Something that had some chance to change the culture of payola and quid-pro-quo in state government.

Instead, HB7 was a joke, with its limits on campaign contributions more than twice as lax as federal law.

The bill would have limited contributions from individuals at $5,000, compared with the federal limit of $2,400. Businesses, unions and political action committees would have been limited to $10,000, compared with the federal $5,000. Political committees, such as legislative leadership PACs, would have been able to pitch in $90,000, compared with the federal $30,000. Federal limits are per election cycle, which makes sense, but the state limits would have been per year — allowing lawmakers to build quite a war chest in their bids to seek re-election.

The bill also would have encouraged the creation of more committees, which would have made following the money — and therefore enforcing the law — more challenging.

When Senate President John Cullerton visited the Rockford Register Star Editorial Board in mid-August, he listed HB7 as one of his bragging points. We should have known something was up, as Cullerton’s support was less than an all-out embrace.

Opposition had been strong and consistent from the major reform groups, including the Illinois Reform Commission, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Bray’s group. Still, the governor had said the bill was the “best we can do at this time.”

Fortunately, times change.

Bray has kept up the good fight, encouraging lawmakers to continue negotiation on rules governing campaign donations. His group’s benchmarks are legitimate: Limits must apply to cash contributions and in-kind contributions; must increase the frequency of contribution disclosure reports; and must have enforcement teeth, including random audits of campaign committees and financial penalties for violations.

None of these typical General Assembly rush jobs, either. An agreement should be reached so the public has enough time to read and digest it before a vote in the veto session, which begins Oct. 14.

Our colleagues at the State Journal-Register in Springfield called this bill “the incumbent protection racket” and asked Gov. Quinn how he could look himself in the mirror if he signed it.
We in the opinion business are used to issuing those sorts of challenges.

We aren’t used to the politicians who listen, admit they are wrong and change course. Quinn has done a favor for the citizens of Illinois. We hope, with a push for real reform, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Rockford Register Star