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Campaign-finance reforms in effect starting Saturday

Updated: April 28, 2011 4:45AM



Despite the priority of the state’s budget crisis, Illinois lawmakers managed to put a number of new laws on the books for the coming year, modifying pension rules for new state employees; how red-light cameras can be used, and punishment for children who send explict photos of other minors among dozens of other things.

Of all such laws scheduled to take effect with the start of 2011, few got more attention than one passed with much fanfare more than a year ago.

Though signed by Gov. Quinn in December 2009 on the one-year anniversary of Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, Illinois’ first limits on campaign contributions finally become enforceable Saturday. The law caps how much money individuals, political action committees and interest groups can give to candidates. It also includes campaign-finance disclosure requirements and requires random audits by the State Board of Elections.

The law’s intent is to prevent people and interest groups from trying to buy influence in state government, barring an individual from donating more than $5,000 to a candidate in both the primary and general elections. Businesses, unions and other associations can give candidates $10,000, while political action committees can give $50,000 to a candidate in each election.

But the new law has a loophole: It caps what political parties and the four legislative leaders can give to candidates only in primaries, not in general elections. That drew criticism that it simply concentrated power in the hands of a few well-entrenched legislative leaders.

The reforms were inspired by the scandal surrounding Blagojevich, Quinn’s predecessor, after he faced federal corruption charges linked to his alleged efforts to sell or trade President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat for campaign money or a job for himself or his wife. Evidence at Blagojevich’s trial showed that he often solicited contributions of $25,000 and $50,000 at a time.

Blagojevich was convicted of just one charge; jurors deadlocked on 23 others. A retrial on those charges is scheduled for April.

Under another new law, new Illinois state employees will have to work to 67 to get a pension, and they won’t get the same generous annual pension increases in retirement. That move was made to help stabilize underfunded state retirement systems and, according to Quinn’s office, save the state $220 billion.

The law, which applies to people hired after the start of 2011, raises the retirement age to 67 after 10 years of service, from age 60 after eight years. It also reduces an annual increase of 3 percent, compounded, to half the inflation rate or 3 percent in simple interest, whichever is less.

Among other new laws that take effect Saturday:

† Tickets generated by automated red-light cameras must be verified by an official before any citation is issued. Drivers also will get to view the evidence online and can’t be charged an extra fee for contesting the ticket. Drivers get a little more leeway to stop beyond the white line at a red light, as long as they don’t enter the intersection.

† Minors who send indecent photos of other minors electronically, such as by text message, can be taken into custody and subjected to adjudication or supervision. Another measure makes it a crime to sexually exploit a child using a computer or Internet-based software. AP



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