Another abuse in legislative scholarship program

Another abuse in legislative scholarship program

Ah, Illinois, a state where even the reformers need reforming.

The latest evidence is the disclosure that one of the biggest populists in the state Legislature, Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, has awarded two of those notoriously abused "legislative scholarships" to the daughter of his biggest individual campaign donor.

Boland has given two one-year scholarships to Western Illinois University to Alleyene Suehl, the daughter of Barb Suehl. The scholarships are worth a total of about $10,000. The elder Suehl, a real estate agent, donated nearly $16,000 to Boland's campaign committee in 2004 and 2005.

In addition, she told The Rock Island Argus and The Moline Dispatch that she earns about $100,000 a year, which raises questions about whether the scholarship shouldn't have gone to a needy student.

This points out once again how corrupt the decades-old legislative scholarship program is and why it needs to be abolished. It's nothing more than an expensive goodie for legislators – expensive because the state's universities, not legislators, are forced to pay for the scholarships and a goodie because it's a way for lawmakers to reward friends and campaign contributors.

"This just smells of pay-to-play politics," said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

She suggested that legislators should establish some criteria for handing out the two four-year scholarships (sometimes divided into eight one-year awards) that they get every year. But we'll go her one better. Three local lawmakers – Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, and Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Bill Black, R-Danville – all have chosen not to participate in the program. That's the right thing to do.

The next step: abolish the program. Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to do that a few years ago but the Legislature blocked the idea. Reformer Mike Boland, a frequent spokesman for ethics and campaign finance reform in Illinois, was one of the lawmakers who voted to continue the program.

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