Madigan chief pleads ‘not guilty’ as Illinois pushes for corruption fixes

Madigan chief pleads ‘not guilty’ as Illinois pushes for corruption fixes

Tim Mapes, longtime chief of staff to former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, pleaded ‘not guilty’ to federal charges he lied to a grand jury about Madigan and bribery. Strong ethics reforms can help fix Illinois’ culture of corruption.

Illinois state lawmakers can still take a strong stand on corruption as they enter the final hours of the legislative session, a move that might stop them from being in the position Tim Mapes was May 28.

Mapes, former chief of staff to former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, pleaded “not guilty” to federal charges that he lied to a grand jury during questioning amid the Commonwealth Edison scandal. He was granted immunity in March, but then gave false testimony about Madigan’s relationship to confidant Mike McClain.

McClain was charged as the architect of a $1.3 million bribery scheme to win Madigan’s nod on legislation worth $150 million to electricity giant Commonwealth Edison. Mapes was questioned about his role as the conduit between Madigan and McClain.

Federal prosecutors clearly timed Mapes’ indictment to send a message to the Statehouse. Lawmakers appear to have heard.

“I think it’s critically important because it’s the first step to helping reestablish the public’s trust in the General Assembly and the legislative process,” state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The scandals we’ve had over the last couple of years have really raised a lot of questions for people, and I think it’s important that they see that we’re serious about this.”

She said her ethics bill, Senate Bill 4, is being amended to strengthen the measures and incorporating ideas from the Republicans’ proposal, Senate Bill 1350, and other ideas.

That’s encouraging from a group that understands they don’t have the public’s trust and need to do something meaningful about it. Illinoisans are watching and will know if lawmakers just pay lip service to this important issue.

SB 4 should be strengthened as follows:

Strengthen financial disclosures for public officials. Lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms are mockingly known as “none” sheets because the questions are so vague that lawmakers can answer “none” to most of the questions. SB 4 expands and simplifies the requirements for lawmakers to disclose each source of income above $1,200, each asset worth more than $5,000 and creditors holding debt above $5,000, including for their spouse or minor children. The new statements would also require lawmakers to reveal if their spouse works in government and any relationships with lobbyists. Disclosure requirements should expanded to include the economic interests of lawmaker’s close family members so they cannot easily avoid revealing potential conflicts of interest.

End lawmaker lobbying. The bill prohibits lawmakers, executive branch constitutional officers and elected officials of units of local governments from being employed as lobbyists while holding office, but only if the lobbying firm is registered to lobby the General Assembly or the executive branch in the case of members of the General Assembly, and only if the lobbying firm is registered to lobby the local government over which they preside in the case of local government officials. The bill needs to close that loophole to bar members of the General Assembly from lobbying for compensation in Illinois, period.

Stop the revolving door. Lawmakers can quit today and return to the Statehouse tomorrow as lobbyists paid to influence their former peers. SB 4 should be amended to lock the revolving door for at least a year, in line with most other states.

Free the legislative watchdog. The legislative inspector general is controlled by a group of eight lawmakers, who can stop the inspector general from investigating their peers or even reporting results when wrongdoing is found. SB 4 should free the inspector general to conduct investigations into complaints and publish any findings of wrongdoing without seeking permission. The inspector general’s oversight body, the Legislative Ethics Commission, should consist of members who are not state employees, lobbyists or politicians.

A few other fixes. SB 4 should prohibit lobbyists from serving as the officer or candidate of a candidate’s political committee. The authority of a statewide grand jury should be expanded to investigate public corruption crimes, a change supported by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Lawmakers may be worried about the public trust when it comes to asking for reelection and tax increases, but they should also pass ethics reforms to hit at the harsh costs of corruption.

Nearly 79,000 more Illinoisans live in poverty than otherwise would were Illinois to lower its corruption rate to the U.S. average, according to an Illinois Policy Institute analysis. The Institute also found corruption cost each Illinoisan $830 between 2000 and 2018.

A stronger SB 4 is how state lawmakers can begin to regain public trust and prove they are really making a break with Madigan-style public corruption.

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