Bill fights Illinois corruption with online access to government spending, records

Bill fights Illinois corruption with online access to government spending, records

Putting the public’s business on public display can help Illinois reform its culture of corruption and control government waste. An Illinois House bill will put more local government records online.

Government corruption in Chicago and Springfield get national attention, but Illinois’ culture of corruption extends into local government, too.

Empowering residents with more information about how government is spending their taxes, who is getting the money and who is responsible for those decisions is the aim of a bill currently before the Illinois House. House Bill 3410 will put more records online so all residents can see what their local governments are up to.

The goal of the reforms are to make critical information readily available and accessible online. The key requirements include:

  1. Contact information for the Freedom of Information Act officer, the chief administrator and the heads of each department in the unit of government
  2. Meeting materials prior to a meeting, including the agenda and other preparatory materials, and meeting minutes after the meeting
  3. Annual budget and appropriation ordinances
  4. Any budget, financial audit, or financial report detailing revenues, including a breakdown by source, and expenditures
  5. Information about bids and contracts exceeding $25,000
  6. Disclosures of debt, taxes, fees and pension liabilities

The Act would apply to any government with an operating budget of $1 million or more, so the smallest governments would not be hurt by any compliance costs associated with the reforms. Most or all of the information required to be posted online by the bill is already required to be kept by the local government or should be standard record keeping. By requiring this information to be posted publicly online, the information becomes exempt from Freedom of Information Act provisions, likely saving the local governments time and money by not having to produce multiple responses for basic record requests.

Illinois leads the way in public corruption, with the most convictions per capita among the top 10 most populous states between 1983 and 2018. In a recent report from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Illinois was No. 2 for most corrupt state in the country, while Chicago landed in first place among cities. With former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan recently ousted from his decades-long hold on power over corruptionconcerns, momentum is growing for reforms to address ethics problems in Illinois government.

While the state and Chicago grab corruption headlines, the lack of attention can allow smaller governments to harbor big corruption costs. Numerous townships and municipalities have seen investigations into local officials over allegations of corrupt activity.

Corruption eroded Illinoisans’ confidence in their government, with 2016 Gallup polling showing Illinois respondents had the lowest level of trust in their government of any state in the U.S.

In addition to Illinoisans’ loss of faith in their government, the state’s culture of corruption comes at a high price, with research showing corruption has cost the state more than $10 billion in foregone economic growth since 2000.

Corruption is pervasive in Illinois, and too many local leaders are unwilling to fix it. Simple transparency measures can help Illinois residents monitor how their local officials conduct business by giving them easy access to information concerning how governments spend tax and fee revenues and manage operations. Publicly posting this information could reduce corruption by making it harder to hide transactions from public view.

Improving transparency and addressing the state’s corruption problem is a high priority for Illinoisans. Recent polling has shown “cleaning up corruption in state government” is rated 10 out of 10 as a priority for 69% of Illinois respondents and rated at least a 7 out of 10 for 85% of them. Passing HB 3410 should be a priority for every legislator given the public’s demand for open government and the costly and harmful impact of corruption in Illinois.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and Illinois public officials have regularly shown what they do in the dark makes our state sick.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!