SPRINGFIELD, IL – Legislation to end the practice of high government officials trading prestigious low-digit license plates for campaign cash sailed through an Illinois House committee this week and now heads to the full House.
The “Low Digit License Plate Act of 2004” - sponsored by Rep. Eddie Washington (D-Waukegan) - was approved with bipartisan support (10-0-0) by the Illinois House State Government Administration Committee on Wednesday, February 25.
House Bill 5105 - pushed by Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and the Better Government Association - will reform the way low-digit plates are issued.
The selling of prestigious low-digit license plates for political contributions or bribes was standard practice in the Secretary of State’s office under George Ryan. During the trial of former Ryan Chief-of-Staff Scott Fawell – now in federal prison – details of the practice came to light.
More than 200 donors to Ryan’s 1994 campaign fund held low-digit plates, averaging more than $1,000 per plate per donor. The practice continued into Ryan’s second term as Secretary of State according to federal court documents. Larry Hall, who pled guilty to corruption, said he used perk plates to raise at least $10,000 in campaign funds and testified that Fawell saw this as a “cash cow”.
The Low-Digit License Plate Act requires that certain low-digit plates be distributed by the Secretary of State in a random fashion. It applies to issuance of license plates numbered 1 through 9999 (with no letters) and plates containing single-, double- or triple-letters. It would cover “open” plates only, meaning plates that have not already been issued or plates that have not been renewed. It would not apply to “vanity plates” such as “DA BEARS” or “JOEY 123”.
Under the Act, the Secretary of State will maintain an internet listing of available low-digit plates. Once a plate becomes “open”, any applicant who has paid the proper fees has 60 days to apply. If more than one person applies, there will be a random lottery. A low-digit plate could be transferred just as it can be under current law, so it could remain in a motorist’s family.
“Our license plates read ‘Land of Lincoln’, not ‘Land of Political Insiders’. Instead of handing out low-digit plates to big-shots, let’s allow everyday people to be eligible,” Quinn said. “This bill goes to the heart of the problem of high government officials selling perk plates for campaign cash.”