Illinois enacts overdue first step in ethics reform

October 12, 2021

Illinois Policy Institute experts say lawmakers must pursue additional anti-corruption measures


CONTACT: Melanie Krakauer (312) 607-4977

Illinois enacts overdue first step in ethics reform
Illinois Policy Institute experts say lawmakers must pursue additional anti-corruption measures

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Oct. 12, 2021) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker officially certified Senate Bill 539 Friday. The omnibus ethics package, which will be effective Jan. 1, 2022,  takes a step toward reforming Illinois’ extensive culture of corruption, but more remains to be done.

In addition to changing certain laws governing political fundraising and rules affecting lobbyists, the bill amends the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act to broaden the information required in the financial disclosure statements filed by certain public officials and bars lawmakers, executive constitutional officers and elected officials of units of local governments from being employed as lobbyists while in office under certain circumstances. It also allows the legislative inspector general to open investigations into complaints of wrongdoing against lawmakers and mandates legislators must adhere to a short waiting period before becoming lobbyists.

Pritzker issued an amendatory veto to make a minor technical fix to the bill in August, which the General Assembly approved Sept. 9.

These reforms fall short of what is needed, Institute experts say. Illinois lawmakers must return to the issue and do more next year if they are serious about combatting the pervasive culture of corruption in the state.

Analysis of the ethics package finds:

  • Bill language allows for a lawmaker to retire from the General Assembly and, after waiting a six-month period, become a lobbyist during the remainder of the term for which they were elected to office.
  • The six-month period only applies to lawmakers who attempt to lobby the General Assembly they served in, so if a lawmaker resigns the day prior to a new General Assembly, that lawmaker could skip the “cooling off” period completely.
  • The legislative inspector general now has the power to open investigations of complaints without the approval of lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission, so long as it’s within one year of the incident. The inspector general’s jurisdiction has been limited to investigating violations of the Governmental Ethics Act and violations of laws and rules related to, or other misconduct related to, public duties or use of state office, employment or resources.
  • Lawmakers and certain other public officials are required to provide broadened financial disclosure information. Most assets and debts worth more than $10,000 and income sources over $7,500 must be disclosed.
  • A new ban prevents lawmakers from lobbying for an entity that’s also registered to lobby the particular unit of government they serve.

Illinois Policy Institute recommendations for additional reforms:

  • At least a one-year buffer between the time a lawmaker leaves office and becomes a lobbyist. This would create a longer “cooling-off” period and bring the lobbying restrictions of Illinois more in line with other states.
  • Empower the legislative inspector general to issue subpoenas for documents and witnesses and to publish their findings of wrongdoing without first seeking permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission. Lawmakers should also consider the recommendations of former legislative inspector general Carol Pope, such as adding a ninth member – a non-lawmaker – to the Legislative Ethics Commission.
  • Include the financial interests of filers’ immediate family members on statements of economic interest.
  • Eliminate loopholes that would allow lawmakers to lobby other units of government. One such loophole is the bill language only restricts lawmakers from being employed as lobbyists for a firm registered to lobby the unit of government they serve. This bars lawmakers from working as lobbyists for big firms, but allows them to open their own shops and get around that restriction.

Amy Korte, vice president of policy for the Illinois Policy Institute, offered the following statement:

“Voters have demanded changes to address public corruption and stop lawmakers from playing by different rules than everyone else. This bill is a start to delivering on the basic anti-corruption measures the people of Illinois deserve. Further reforms are still needed.”

Matt Paprocki, president of the Illinois Policy Institute, offered the following statement: 

“Things are starting to change in Illinois. The ethics package is an important first step, and we need to pass a more comprehensive ethics bill next year to ensure that decades of political corruption comes to a permanent halt.”

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