Former state senator, ComEd lobbyist faces tax fraud indictment

Former state senator, ComEd lobbyist faces tax fraud indictment

A former Illinois state senator was charged with federal income tax crimes. Her Senate financial disclosure statement shows why they are known as ‘none’ sheets. Reforms are needed.

Former Illinois state Sen. Annazette Collins was charged in a five-count indictment March 31 stating she “substantially” underreported income and failed to file corporate and individual income tax returns between 2o14 and 2016 related to her work as a lobbyist.

Collins’ is the third federal case to become public in a week involving politics, money and corruption in Illinois. One of her lobbying clients was Commonwealth Edison, the power utility that admitted to over $1.3 million in bribes to curry political favor with former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in order to secure legislation worth $150 million to the company.

Collins was a state lawmaker for 13 years until she lost her primary election and ended her Illinois Senate term in 2013. In 2014, she joined eight other former lawmakers and top staffers of Madigan in becoming a contract lobbyist for ComEd.

After ComEd admitted to the bribery scheme, the corruption probe has seen the indictment of former ComEd lobbyists Jay Hooker and Madigan confidant Michael McClain.

Collins stopped working with ComEd in 2019 when news of the federal investigation into the utility provider’s Springfield lobbying practices began to emerge.

The former state senator was charged by a federal grand jury for reporting personal income of just $11,500 in 2014 and $10,154 in 2015 on tax returns. According to the charges, she did so knowing “that the total income substantially exceeded that amount.” Collins failed to file individual income tax returns in 2016.

Collins also allegedly failed to file corporate income tax returns on behalf of her Chicago-based consulting and lobbying firm, Kourtnie Nicole Corp., in 2015 and 2016.

The charges do not mention Collins’ work for ComEd.

Besides Collins, a political operative for the late state Sen. Martin Sandoval and Chicago Ald. Ed Burke was charged March 30 with failing to tell the FBI about bribes. Rudy Acosta Sr. was charged with withholding information from the FBI about cash payments he made to an unnamed senator, which the Chicago Sun-Times confirmed was Sandoval. Sandoval last year pleaded guilty to accepting $250,000 in bribes. Burke was indicted on 14 counts of corruption in May 2019.

Also March 30, the Chicago Tribune said unnamed sources revealed a federal investigation into influence peddling by Chicago-based marijuana company Green Thumb Industries. The company hired four close associates of Madigan, including McClain.

The feds’ very busy week is a reminder of the pervasiveness of Illinois’ culture of political corruption. While legislative reforms cannot stop illegal actions, they can set a tone and create an expectation of ethical conduct early in a lawmaker’s career.

Collins’ statement of economic interest from near the end of her Senate term is an example of one problem. Every question is answered with “none,” which illustrates why the statements are derisively known as “none sheets,” giving voters little insight and relying on lawmakers’ judgment and honesty.

State lawmakers should reform the statements of economic interest. They should outline the lawmaker’s financial investments, business associations and sources of income. Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch has pointed out the forms are essentially worthless and need to be changed.

State lawmakers are considering reforms that could help change the culture by making politics more transparent and ethical. Ethics reform bills would change the financial disclosure forms, ban lobbying by sitting lawmakers, block the Statehouse’s revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying, and empower the legislative inspector general to investigate and publish political misconduct without lawmaker approval.

Illinois is the second-most corrupt state in the nation and that corruption comes with a heavy price tag for the state economy – more than $550 million per year.

Not only does corruption cost all Illinois taxpayers, but it shakes residents’ faith in state and local politicians when they use positions of public trust to put their personal gain ahead of public good.

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