Statehouse solutions could protect taxpayers from Illinois’ corruption problems

November 12, 2019

Legislative veto session offers opportunity for lawmakers to pass anti-corruption measures

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Nov. 12, 2019) – Illinois ranks as the third-most corrupt state in the nation. It also has among the weakest laws of any state to prevent corruption in lawmakers’ voting and lobbying behavior, according to analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute.

Many states bar lawmakers from voting on issues in which they have a conflict of interest, have restrictions on lawmakers serving as lobbyists, and empower independent watchdogs to effectively investigate lawmaker behavior. Illinois has not passed any of these basic anti-corruption measures.

Meanwhile, in one of the most wide-ranging federal corruption investigations in state history, nearly 30 lawmakers, businesses or political figures have been questioned, investigated, indicted or convicted on corruption charges this year.

Experts from the Illinois Policy Institute have proposed several Statehouse solutions to protect taxpayers from government corruption.

Solutions include:

  • Stop the revolving door from lawmaker to lobbyist by instituting a mandatory “cooling off” period.

Illinois is one of only 14 states with no statutes or provisions broadly forbidding lawmakers from lobbying the legislature immediately after they leave office. By contrast, the federal government imposes a cooling off period before former lawmakers can lobby Congress.

The state should implement a three-year revolving door ban that prevents lawmakers from immediately lobbying the state. This would give voters confidence that their elected representatives are focused on serving constituents rather than building their own post-legislative careers.

  • Prevent conflicts of interest through voting recusal.

There is no current state law rule requiring Illinois lawmakers to disclose a conflict of interest or to excuse themselves from voting on issues where they have personal or private financial interests. Meanwhile, at least 33 states require some form of recusal or disclosure before lawmakers can vote in cases of conflict of interest.

Illinois could ensure lawmakers – and their families – are not personally benefiting from their vote by requiring a public declaration of any conflict of interest before a vote, and mandating that conflicted lawmakers recuse themselves from voting.

  • Ban sitting lawmakers from lobbying.

While Illinois has a limited ban on lawmakers lobbying the General Assembly, other states such as Alaska and Iowa offer more stringent laws that further restrict sitting lawmakers from potentially taking advantage of their positions of power.

A new law could prohibit members of the General Assembly from acting as paid lobbyists while in office, avoiding opportunities where interests could conflict, particularly with local governments, which are often subject to the votes that state lawmakers take.

  • Enhance the power of the legislative inspector general to investigate lawmaker corruption.

Though the office of the legislative inspector general is responsible for looking into wrongdoing by lawmakers, the office cannot open investigations, issue subpoenas, or publish summary reports without majority approval from an ethics commission made up of lawmakers from the legislative body.

Illinois should enhance the LIG office so the public would be able to know what’s going on behind closed doors in Springfield. It could do this by authorizing the LIG to publish findings of wrongdoing without the commission intervening.

For a comprehensive list tracking every corruption investigation, indictment and conviction, visit