New proposal would free General Assembly watchdog to pursue investigations without lawmaker approval
A bureaucratic barrier that stifles investigations into lawmakers’ ethical violations would be nixed under a newly proposed law.
It might come as a surprise to some Illinoisans that when an ethics complaint is filed against a member of the Illinois General Assembly, the body’s chief watchdog isn’t allowed to follow through with an investigation.
Instead, the complaints flow to the Legislative Ethics Commission, where lawmakers decide if an investigation should proceed. Elected officials, in other words, determine which claims against their colleagues their designated watchdog is permitted to pursue.
The hazard of this process is clear. Illinois lawmakers aren’t capable of policing themselves. But a new proposal could bring some needed independence to the legislative inspector general.
Sen. Christina Castro, D-Elgin, announced Dec. 7 she is introducing a bill to allow Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter to pursue investigations without lawmaker approval. According to Castro, this would allow Porter to autonomously pursue investigations as complaints are filed – eliminating the need for the Ethics Committee’s blessing beforehand.
Not only does the legislative inspector general face barriers to pursue effective investigations, but until recently, the office had also been vacant for three years.
If the proposal succeeds, it would provide more effective oversight of state lawmakers by empowering the office to investigate ethics claims at its own discretion – not that of its subjects.