With a new commission coming together to investigate how to change Illinois’ ethics laws, some lawmakers have outlined what they want to see happen amid federal corruption investigations involving lawmakers and lobbyists.
In October, state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was arrested and charged with bribing an unnamed state senator. Arroyo was a consultant for a firm that lobbies the city of Chicago. Arroyo pleaded not guilty and resigned from the statehouse. The charges spurred reports of other lawmakers who also work as lobbyists and raised questions about conflicts of interest.
Before leaving for the year, lawmakers passed measures that Gov. J.B. Pritzker said were important, such as creating a central database of lobbyists.
“Making sure that all of you in the press and the public can see who the lobbyists are, who they represent, what influence they’re wielding upon legislators, how much money they’re giving to legislators, and how much money those companies are giving to legislators,” Pritzker said. “That’s not easy to find today.”
That measure, once enacted, would require the Secretary of State to create a central database for such information for the public to access within 90 days.
Lawmakers also created a Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reforms. All four legislative caucuses announced their members for the commission.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, selected House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, and Assistant Majority Leader Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park. Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, and Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, were chosen by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.
In the Senate, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, announced state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, to the commission. Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, announced Sens. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, and Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, to the commission.
The Secretary of State’s office said Jim Burns, the inspector general for the Secretary of State’s office and Nathan Maddox, executive counsel for the Secretary of State’s office, were chosen to be on the commission.
The Attorney General’s office has yet to announce its commission picks.
While he’s not on the commission, state Rep. Tim Butler said commission members need to meet and move on legislation even before issuing a report in March.
“We need to get the commission up and going,” Butler said. “They need to start having hearings, they need to start hearing from witnesses about what we can do and hopefully early in the spring session, not waiting until March when the report is due, but early in the spring session we need to move some legislation on ethics.”
Butler said there’s one thing he knows lawmakers can “knock off pretty easy.”
“Not the least of which is making sure that members of the general assembly are not lobbyists," he said. "I think that’s a pretty easy bar to meet by passing legislation that would eliminate that.”
Pritzker said once formed, the commission should take up that question.
“Should legislators also act as lobbyists, that’s an important question that this commission is going to take up,” Pritzker said. “I think we’ve got to address all of these issues that are around the recent corruption allegations and indictments that have taken place. That commission should take up those issues immediately.”