Democratic state lawmakers demand ethics reform in wake of Madigan scandal
Pressure continues to build to repair Illinois’ broken ethics laws, as more Democrats demand reform and more lawmakers face corruption charges.
Three Democratic state lawmakers are publicly calling for nine ethics reforms to be taken up during the fall veto session.
Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, on Aug. 13 revealed the list of reforms, including three on Illinois Policy’s 2020 legislative agenda:
Senate Bill 3020, sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, and House Bill 4020, sponsored by Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Champaign, would prohibit members of the General Assembly from working as lobbyists or in a manner that would require them to register as a lobbyist while they are an elected official.
The proposals further bar their immediate family members, spouses or others living with them from being paid lobbyists. The ban would also keep those individuals from communicating with executive officials in both state and local government for the purpose of trying to influence administrative action in those offices.
Senate Bill 2314, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and House Bill 4097, sponsored by Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Collinsville, would mandate a two-year cooling-off period for former state lawmakers and state agency heads before they become lobbyists. Currently a lawmaker can leave office one day and return to the Statehouse the next as a paid lobbyist.
House Bill 4558 sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, would allow the legislative inspector general to open investigations and issue subpoenas without approval from lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission. If the inspector finds wrongdoing, those findings could be released to the public.
Sen. Terry Link resigned from the commission Aug. 13 after he was charged with federal tax evasion. Former Legislative Inspector General Lisa Porter testified lawmakers on the commission blocked her efforts to investigate significant wrongdoing by their peers.
While Link points out the need for ethics reforms, he is not the only or the most prominent example. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan was implicated in a federal investigation of Commonwealth Edison and $1.3 million in bribes and payments to his political cronies to curry his favor on legislation worth over $150 million to the utility. In addition to ComEd, federal investigators served Madigan with grand jury subpoenas for documents regarding Commonwealth Edison, AT&T, Walgreens and Rush University MedicalCenter.
The three Democratic lawmakers calling for reforms said the changes were not just about Madigan, although all three are in the group calling for his immediate resignation from leadership positions.
“This isn’t about one person in the state of Illinois,” Bush said. “This is about the General Assembly, this is about adopting ethics changes that will really address what has been a systemic culture.”
That culture besides Link and Madigan includes: former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, who was charged with bribery of a state official; former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to taking $250,000 in bribes; and state Sen. Tom Cullerton, who faces charges he embezzled $275,000 from the Teamsters through a ghost payrolling scheme.
All five lawmakers facing federal prosecutions or investigations were proponents of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “fair tax.” Pritzker also faces federal scrutiny for a $331,000 property tax dodge, and has mounted a $56.5 millioncampaign using his money to persuade voters Nov. 3 to trust state lawmakers with greater power to decide who should be taxed how much.
Other reforms proposed by the three Democratic lawmakers include greater disclosure of lawmaker outside income, establishing a censure process, creating term limits for legislative leaders, establishing a removal process for leaders and committee chairs and ending the exemption for General Assembly employees from the Human Rights Act.
Veto session is Nov. 17-19 and Dec. 1-3. The General Assembly should follow these lawmaker’s lead and pass meaningful government ethics reform.