A tumultuous run at the statehouse is taking a toll on taxpayers, the state's political leaders said.
Friday state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, resigned after being charged with bribery. He’s pleaded not guilty. State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, pleaded not guilty to embezzlement charges this summer. State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, is under federal investigation over a possible kickback scheme. He’s not been charged. Federal prosecutors noted that the unidentified state senator who recorded Arroyo was cooperating with the FBI in a bid to get a reduced sentence on expected tax fraud charges.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said it hurts the public’s trust in state government.
“Obviously that’s a concern,” Cullerton said. “It’s the image that we have as a General Assembly. It’s very concerning.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the cloud of corruption costs taxpayers.
“I’m disgusted by all of what’s going on in this regard,” Pritzker said. “And I also view it as they’re throwing obstacles in the way of us accomplishing pension consolidation and lowering taxes, property taxes and other things in the state. There is a corruption tax that sits on top of everybody in this state and we need to get rid of it.”
On Friday, Arroyo resigned as a state representative a week after he was arrested on bribery charges. His resignation preempted a House committee hearing that could have produced a resolution to eject him from office. Leaders from both parties had called on him to resign.
This summer, federal agents raided Sandoval's home and offices searching for evidence related to a kickback scheme. Although he has not been charged with a crime, he stepped down as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton pleaded not guilty to embezzling from a labor union. He had his chairmanship shifted from the Senate Labor Committee to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, a move that allowed him to keep a stipend on top of his base lawmaker salary.
Asked last week why the two senators have not been pushed out, Senate President John Cullerton said Sandoval has not been charged. Tom Cullerton has.
“It appears that Senator Cullerton’s charges do not involve the legislature. The others appear to,” John Cullerton said. “So that’s why we need to take a reasoned, common-sense approach to this and that’s what I’m willing to do.”
House rules lay out the procedure for a Special Investigations Committee. Such a committee was established and planned to meet Friday to investigate Arroyo’s case and possibly offer a resolution to expel him from office. His resignation made that unnecessary.
No such committee is laid out in Senate rules. There is a rule in the Senate that says “the Senate may punish any of its members for disorderly behavior and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the members elected, expel a Senator.”
No such resolution has surfaced.
Republican leaders have called for another state senator to resign from his position on the Legislative Ethics Commission.
"In an effort to begin restoring public confidence, Senator Terry Link needs to step down immediately from his position on the Legislative Ethics Commission while this widespread federal investigation continues."
Both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune have identified state Sen. Terry Link as a cooperating witness in Arroyo's case. Link has denied it.
A footnote contained in the federal indictment said Arroyo was recorded offering the $2,500 bribe by a state senator who had been cooperating with the FBI since 2016. That lawmaker, who was identified only as "Cooperating Witness 1" in the indictment, had been working with the FBI until Nov. 3, 2016. At that point, he was "closed as a source" because FBI agents learned he had filed false income tax returns. Then, after admitting to the false tax returns, the Senator began working with the FBI again in a bid to get a reduced sentence on any tax charges he could face.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield on Nov. 12. They could focus on legislation to tighten up the state’s ethics laws.
Three other members of the 101st General Assembly have also been charged with crimes this year.
In January, then-state Rep. Nick Sauer, R-Lake Barrington, resigned after he was charged under the state's revenge porn law. He has pleaded not guilty. Two others – state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, and state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago – were charged with driving under the influence of alcohol during the spring session. Reick was sentenced. Buckner's case remains pending.