Small Steps Taken on Ethics Reform, But More Needed

Illinois is in desperate need of comprehensive ethics reform to end the culture of corruption in our state. In just the past two years, several current and former state legislators have been indicted on federal corruption charges. These scandals came to a head with the indictments of multiple Madigan insiders and the naming of former House Speaker Michael J. Madigan as “Public Official A” in the Commonwealth Edison Deferred Prosecution Agreement. Recently, Madigan’s longtime chief of staff and former Clerk of the House Tim Mapes was indicted for lying under oath during the grand jury’s investigation of ComEd’s admitted bribery scheme benefitting Madigan.

Even though voices have been crying out for reforms that would address the rampant corruption that has plagued our state, only crumbs came from the majority party that has been the subject of so many federal investigations. 

Senate Bill 539 is an ethics omnibus bill that contains a number of provisions included in the Democrats’ ethics bill from the January lame duck session. It creates a revised Statement of Economic Interest, which requires increased disclosure of assets, debts, creditors and income. It prohibits in-person fundraising on any day the legislature is in session, and the day before and the day after legislative session (in-person or virtual, covering the entire state).

The bill includes a six-month revolving door prohibition for legislators and executive branch officers and prohibits legislators from lobbying for compensation on behalf of a lobbyist or lobbying entity that is registered to lobby the General Assembly or Executive Branch. If they are not required to register to lobby the General Assembly, then the legislator may lobby a municipality, county or township.

SB 539 grants the Legislative Inspector General the ability to initiate an investigation without the approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission. It prohibits an individual who is appointed to a compensated position that requires Senate confirmation from having a candidate political committee or to be a candidate who is supported by that committee.

SB 539 passed the House by a vote of 113-5-0, with the Senate concurring on a vote of 59-0-0.

This legislation barely scratches the surface of what needs to be accomplished for ethics reform. Debate on the bill revealed that the revolving door prohibition outlined in the legislation would allow current members of the legislature to become lobbyists for the General Assembly one day after their retirement. This is not real reform. This is the status-quo!

The fact that we are considering an ethics bill at all is a step forward, the smallest step the majority would allow. While something is better than nothing, we must do so much more to close current loopholes in our state laws.

To restore public trust back in our government we have supported this first step in the right direction – where we can continue to make improvements to give the people of Illinois the government they deserve.

Too many legislators and public officials in Illinois have used their public service to cash in after, and in some cases, during their time in office. For current lawmakers, this will not change if this bill becomes law. 

We could have done so much better. House Republicans have introduced more than three dozen ethics reforms in this General Assembly alone, and many bipartisan bills exist. We must keep pushing for more reforms. 

There is so much more work to do to clean up corruption and pass further reforms to tighten up economic interest disclosure statements, implement a true revolving door, and maybe, finally, one day, end corruption in the State of Illinois.