(The Center Square) – Illinois has just ranked as the second most corrupt state in a University of Illinois at Chicago report.
A good government reform group says lawmakers must pass reforms that make themselves uncomfortable to regain the public’s trust.
Using statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, researchers at UIC found in the decades since 1976, Illinois had more corruption convictions per-capita than every other state except Louisiana.
“The statistics do not completely reflect it, but 2019 was a highly explosive year, during which some of the most important political corruption in the history of Chicago and Illinois was exposed,” researchers said. “Bombshell corruption news reports that year dethroned the city's most powerful alderman, upset Chicago's mayoral election campaign, torpedoed the most powerful and well-known candidate, and threatened the political existence of Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and Chairman of the State Democratic Party, Michael Madigan.”
In his State of the State and Budget speech last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker made ethics reforms a priority.
“Nobody should hold the title of both legislator and lobbyist at the same time,” Pritzker said. “We need meaningful disclosure of conflicts of interest. We must end the General Assembly’s revolving door allowing legislators to get paid as lobbyists the day after they leave office.”
“Restoring the public’s trust is of paramount importance,” he said.
His request last year was derailed as members of a task force on ethics and lobbying reforms blamed COVID-19 for not advancing substantive changes.
Reform For Illinois Executive Director Alisa Kaplan said the revolving door ban can’t be just six months as has been proposed before. It’s got to be one-to-two years. She said there are other areas where surface changes on economics disclosures won’t be enough. She said lawmakers must dig deep.
“Real meaningful reform that makes hard choices and may even hurt a little bit, it may hurt legislators a little bit, it may hurt their pocketbooks, it may mean more oversight for them, it may challenge them in ways they haven’t been challenged before,” Kaplan said.
One reform the governor didn’t mention that must pass is giving the Legislative Inspector General more independence to investigate claims against lawmakers.
“It’s completely toothless right now because [the Legislative Inspector General] has to ask legislators for permission to do everything, to conduct investigations, to publish reports, to subpoena witnesses, to do everything,” Kaplan said.
Any reforms must make lawmakers uncomfortable, or they won’t be meaningful, she said.
“If we’re going to move forward and we’re going to rebuild trust with the Illinois public, they're going to have to make those hard choices,” she said.
Neither the Illinois House nor Senate have any committee hearings scheduled. They’ve canceled in-person session days this month.