Speaker Welch says Illinois’ financial disclosure forms are ‘worthless’

Speaker Welch says Illinois’ financial disclosure forms are ‘worthless’

The new speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives referred to state lawmakers’ statements of economic interest forms as confusing and a ‘worthless piece of document.’ They can be fixed.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch just criticized the financial disclosure procedures in the General Assembly, which presents a chance to repair them.

The required statement of economic interest is a “worthless piece of document,” Welch told WTTW-TV correspondent Amanda Vinicky Feb. 24 during a livestream event hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago. Welch went on to describe the disclosures as confusing to lawmakers and speculated the forms would be even less clear to the public.

Welch said what many in Springfield have known for a long time: the statements of economic interest need serious reform. The statements are supposed to give the public an idea of where lawmakers have financial interests, but the requirements for disclosure are so lenient the statements have become derisively known as “none sheets” for what lawmakers actually include in the documents.

Worse, lawmakers are entirely on the honor system when it comes to conflicts of interest: recusal from participating or voting when there’s a conflict is entirely voluntary.

For example, former state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, co-sponsored and voted for the ComEd-backed Future Energy Jobs Act in December 2016 while his son’s lobbying company, Apex Strategy, had a contract with ComEd in 2015 for “government relations services.” Acevedo never revealed the conflict of interest related to the bill. The ethical rule that lawmakers should disclose and recuse themselves in the case of conflicts of interest is a mere suggestion.

Acevedo is currently under indictment for tax evasion, as is the son who ran the lobbying firm. ComEd and its lobbying activity have been the focus of a federal probe that implicated former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in a more than $1.3 million bribery scheme intended to buy his influence over legislation.

The statements of economic interest are one of the few ways the public can hold lawmakers accountable when they put their self-interest above the interests of their constituents.

Statements of economic interest need to be more thorough and more detailed to make every vote transparent. They should provide voters with enough information to judge whether legislators are acting in constituents’ best interests.

Two bills that would enhance financial disclosure requirement are House Bill 3751, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, and Senate Bill 1597, sponsored by state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago. These bills would require lawmakers to disclose the business associations, sources of income, securities and real estate assets, and debts and creditors for the filer and their immediate family members, providing exemptions for personal matters such as primary personal residences.

Lawmakers should give voters a clear picture of their financial interests. Legislation such as HB 3751 and SB 1597 would improve transparency to assure constituents those interests don’t conflict with the public interest.

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