State of the state: 10 facts you need to know about transparency in a state famous for corruption

Brian Costin

Open government and government transparency expert

Brian Costin
February 3, 2015

State of the state: 10 facts you need to know about transparency in a state famous for corruption

The state that gave rise to Rod Blagojevich, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Rita Crundwell still hasn’t learned its lesson.

For decades, residents of Illinois have been barraged with a constant stream of public corruption stories in the media. In recent years, these tales include a governor trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat, a U.S. congressman illegally siphoning off campaign funds for personal use, and a record-breaking embezzlement story in the small town of Dixon, Illinois.

It should come as no surprise that only 28 percent of Illinois residents trust their state government, the lowest rate in the nation by 12 percentage points.

State and local governments in Illinois need to embrace online transparency as both an anti-corruption tool and as a way to restore trust in government.

Here are some important facts every Illinoisan should know about the need for government transparency in the state they call home:

1) A comprehensive local transparency bill, based on the Illinois Policy Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist, has been introduced in the General Assembly in each of the last four legislative sessions (2011 – Senate Bill 37; 2012 – Senate Bill 3392; 2013 – House Bill 3312; 2014 – House Bill 4803). Unfortunately for Illinoisans, each of these bills has stalled before being called for a vote.

2) A recent study estimates public corruption cost each Illinois citizen more than $1,300 between 1997 and 2008, or $16.7 billion in total. That’s nearly 5 percent of the state budget, or nearly $1.4 billion per year.

3) With 1,531 convictions, the federal Northern District of Illinois had the most public corruption convictions of any district nationwide from 1976 to 2010. As a state, Illinois had the third-most public corruption convictions during the same time period.

4) In fiscal year 2010, the state of Illinois distributed $65 billion in shared taxes, grants and federal pass-through funds to local governments in Illinois, not including school districts.

5) Local-government corruption cases frequently involve funds from the state of Illinois. Former Dixon, Illinois, Comptroller Rita Crundwell was convicted of embezzling more than $53 million in the city’s share of state-level income, sales, motor-fuel and telecommunication taxes.

6) Eighty-five percent of the public believes it is important for local governments’ financial management information to be available, according to a 2010 survey by the Association of Government Accountants.

7) Fraud experts believe online transparency proactively discourages public employees, contractors and elected officials from engaging in corruption and wasteful government spending. Despite Illinois’ long history of public corruption, many local governments are still not learning the lessons from other communities’ corruption scandals.

8) Illinois’ local government transparency regulations are embarrassingly light. Local governments are required to post very limited information online. Some of the information required includes a meeting calendar, agendas, meeting minutes and limited information on how to file a Freedom of Information Act request.

9) Twenty-one of 102 Illinois counties didn’t have public websites as of January 2014. Of the 81 counties with websites, only 12 have received a passing grade on the Illinois Policy Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist.

10) Only 70 out of the nearly 7,000 local governments in Illinois have earned the Illinois Policy Institute’s Sunshine Award for online transparency. The Sunshine Award is earned by local governments scoring an 80 percent or better on the Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist, which requires the following pieces of information to be posted online:

  1. Contact information
  2. Public meetings
  3. Public records
  4. Budgets
  5. Audits
  6. Expenditures
  7. Compensation
  8. Contracts
  9. Lobbying
  10. Taxes

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!