Illinois’ political corruption keeps people down

Illinois’ political corruption keeps people down

Public corruption is one of the factors hampering social mobility in Illinois, according to a recent report.

As if Illinois didn’t have enough issues with political corruption, now a report shows it helps keep disadvantaged Illinoisans from moving up.

Illinois’ culture of corruption has been so bad:

  • It averaged one conviction a week for decades.
  • The former and longest serving speaker of the Illinois House, Mike Madigan, is awaiting trial for corruption and some of his associates have already been convicted.
  • Four out of 10 of the past governors went to prison.
  • The state consistently ranks second-most corrupt in the nation as measured by number of federal corruption convictions.
  • Chicago ranking as the most corrupt city in the country.
  • Corruption cost Illinois taxpayers over $550 million a year, previous analysis calculated.

But hindering everyday Illinoisans’ efforts to pursue their version of the American Dream is an insidious cost. That’s according to an Archbridge Institute analysis of 21 countries that confirms Illinois is one of the most corrupt states in America.

It also points out how corruption hurts low-income people who most need to be empowered if they hope to climb the social ladder.

A perception of corruption hampers social mobility

The Archbridge Institute developed an index for social mobility at the state level in the United States. Illinois was ranked 40th, 11th-worst in the country and worst in the Midwest for social mobility.

The perception of the state’s corruption is one factor that dragged it down. The social mobility index measures perceptions of corruption using the 2018 Corruption in America Survey, which ranks Illinois among the most corrupt states in the country in both legal and illegal corruption – legal corruption describing a culture of pay-to-play in the form of campaign contributions made to or endorsements of a particular politician in exchange for favors or influence.

Illinois’ poor score in perceptions of corruption contributed to its rank as second-worst in the country for predatory state action, and the third-worst in its measure of the rule of law, another index that is strongly correlated with low economic mobility and high income inequality.

The downstream effects of the state’s culture of corruption are making it harder for Illinoisans to better their lives. That makes it harder for Illinoisans to pull themselves out of poverty. And even after decades of anti-poverty spending, the poverty rate in Chicago remains at 17% – higher than it was when President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1964.

The good news is there are concrete steps the state can take to combat the pervasive culture of corruption. Reducing that perception of corruption could, in turn, make it easier for residents to make socioeconomic progress.

To combat its culture of corruption, Illinois should:

1) End the revolving door

The current Statehouse revolving-door provision has a loophole that would allow state lawmakers who complete their terms to leave office one day and lobby their colleagues the next. There should be at least a one-year buffer between a lawmaker leaving office and then becoming a lobbyist.

2) Empower the Legislative Inspector General

The legislature’s watchdog, the Legislative Inspector General, should have the authority to issue subpoenas to aid any investigation and to publish findings of wrongdoing without getting permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is made up of lawmakers from the very legislature the office is charged with investigating.

3) Stop lawmakers from lobbying local governments

To end the culture of corruption, Illinois should close the loophole that allows state lawmakers to lobby local governments and prohibit any state official from lobbying local governments in Illinois.

4) Give teeth to Illinois lawmakers’ conflict-of-interest rules

Legislators are on the honor system when it comes to revealing conflicts of interest and recusing themselves from a vote. While Illinois does require lawmakers to file general financial disclosure statements, a lawmaker is not required to declare when he or she faces a conflict.

Illinois lawmakers should be required to declare any conflict of interest before taking any official action. They should recuse themselves from voting on legislation when they have such a conflict.


These four fixes are significant steps towards improving perceptions of corruption in the state and removing one more barrier for Illinoisans trying to improve their lives. Lawmakers can’t call themselves progressive if their actions or inactions prevent their constituents from making progress in their lives.

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