Call to Action

Feb 1, 2007

Statewide officials set out their agendas he new kid on the block is a 30-year-old Chicago banker and the first Democratic state treasurer in 12 years. After taking his oath of office, Alexander "Alexi" Giannoulias said he intends to be a consumer advocate while serving as the state's fiscal watchdog.

On his first official day, Giannoulias issued an executive order banning so-called pay-to-play politics by prohibiting contributors and family members from receiving state contracts with his office. 

The six-part package is modeled after ethics rules issued by Comptroller Daniel Hynes and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. Legislation also is pending to put the rules into state statute. 

Giannoulias says his experience as vice president and senior loan officer for his family's Broadway Bank in Chicago gives him insight into bringing new income to the state and enhancing Illinois' investment portfolio.

His family connections provided other benefits to his campaign.

State Board of Elections records show that his mother, Anna Giannoulias, loaned him nearly $1.5 million before October 20, 2006. Other family members gave between $1,000 and $50,000 at a time. His fundraising topped $2.8 million, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

"We had over 2,000 contributors to our campaign," the new treasurer says. "There's a tremendous benefit to being an independent candidate, and that's what I was. I wasn't a machine candidate. I worked very hard. And because of that, now that I'm in office, I'm not beholden to anybody."

But allegations that his family's bank did business with mob-connected customers raised questions from House Speaker Michael Madigan, chairman of the state Democratic Party. Last year, the speaker supported Giannoulias' opponent in the primary. Still, Giannoulias won the Democratic nomination by more than 204,000 votes.

He did receive the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who urged Giannoulias to provide answers about questionable loans to organized crime members.

Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, says the treasurer's role as the investor of the state's money demands transparency. That would include making sure a solid portion is invested in minority-owned firms in the state. She says the public needs to be able to say, "There is a process for choosing the firms that we work with, where we put our money, and that process is not linked to political favoritism and campaign contributions." 

Canary also serves on Giannoulias' transition team, which the organization will do for any candidate "so long as they realize that that doesn't provide them a lifelong get-out-of-jail-free pass," she says.

Transparency is a priority, Giannoulias says, because voters care about ethics now more than ever. "I'm not a career politician. I'm a financial manager, and that's what the state treasurer should be, someone who knows how to manage people's money, but someone who also has innovative ideas that can help on the policy side."

He vows not to accept political contributions from his employees or any bank, regardless of whether the bank does business with the treasurer's office. He also will deny donations from contractors who do business with his office. And when companies bid for state contracts worth more than $10,000, they will have to disclose donations to his campaign.

His employees also are banned from lobbying for two years after they leave his office. And he won't accept any lobbying gifts, including meals and drinks.

"These measures are a good first step. And I guarantee more will follow," he said while standing with Lt. Gov. Quinn — a former state treasurer — at a Statehouse news conference. "Illinois needs to end the connection between political contributions and lucrative state contracts that have given us a black eye. The people of Illinois have had enough."

Giannoulias earned a law degree from Tulane University in New Orleans after playing NCAA basketball at Boston University and professional basketball in Greece. He also founded and chairs the AG Foundation, a nonprofit charity that donates money to treat child-related illnesses, curb poverty and assist disaster relief organizations, according to his Web site.

The governor and other constitutional officers, all Chicago Democrats, set out their policy agendas on Inauguration Day last month. Here's a list of issues and pieces of legislation to watch for this session.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich promises to expand programs for health care, education, job creation and public safety — without raising taxes. He says his priority is to build on the universal health insurance program for children, called All Kids, by extending state-sponsored health insurance to adults.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll continue to promote statewide ethics reform and support for military families. He also wants to continue a grass-roots effort to provide decent health care for everyone. 

Attorney General Lisa Madigan plans to work with lawmakers and law enforcement officials to combat mortgage fraud that enables "thieves to steal people's houses out from under them, and with that, their life savings." She says she also wants to find ways to protect the most vulnerable members of society from nursing home abuse, as well as victims of Internet predators.

She is expected to renew her push for a measure requiring nonprofit hospitals to designate portions of their operating costs to caring for the uninsured.

Secretary of State Jesse White vows to work with legislators and a teen driver safety task force on measures to make roads safer for teenage drivers. Those proposals will include lengthening the time young drivers must have learner's permits and shortening the time they can be on the road each day.

Comptroller Daniel Hynes' three agenda items include balancing the budget — which he calculates faces a $1.5 billion backlog of unpaid bills — enforcing ethics and funding stem cell research. He says it's time to cap overspending by the state, close gaps in what Medicare will pay for and end the shell game of deferring liabilities to the future. But he says one initiative the state can afford is earmarking $100,000 over five years for stem cell research, which he says could be paid for with money owed to states by tobacco companies.

by Bethany Carson and Deanese Williams-Harris 
Illinois Issues February, 2007