Leading up to the November 2020 election, many of us candidates were singing a familiar tune. We were pledging to reform ethics laws and root out corruption in the Land of Lincoln.
Shiny campaign pieces filled mailboxes, and when asked in campaign questionnaires and candidate forums, most of us promised that if elected, ethics reform would be priority #1.
To my disappointment, voters did not return me to Springfield. Still, I was hopeful for Illinois.
Lawmakers took their oath of office in January. And then, January, February, March, April and most of May passed without legislators sending ethics reform legislation to the Governor.
Bills were filed, but the majority party put bricks on every bill that offered substantive reforms and increased accountability.
But then, on May 26, Mike Madigan’s former Chief of Staff Tim Mapes was indicted, joining the long list of high-ranking Illinois officials to be ensnared in the federal probe into Illinois political corruption. Democrats ran for cover and realized they were going to have to pass something.
The General Assembly has a Joint Committee on Ethics Reform, and the current Legislative Inspector General (LIG) Carol Pope told them what tools she needed to properly investigate political wrong-doing. She asked for the ability to issue subpoenas without getting permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC), which is a panel of sitting lawmakers, and for the ability to publish summary reports when allegations against a lawmaker were found to be credible. She also asked that a ninth, nonpartisan member be added to the LEC to avoid 4-4 party line votes that prevent summary reports from becoming public and stymie attempts to get subpoenas.
The very same politicians who ran on ethics reform blocked Pope’s recommendations from becoming law. The ethics package ultimately brought forward at the end of May was weak. Reporters saw through the charade and ate the Democrat bill sponsor alive during the subsequent press conference.
The 2021 package was so weak, it actually decreased the LIG’s ability to investigate. Whereas today the inspectors general can investigate based on allegations reported in the media, the new legislation states an investigation cannot commence unless an official complaint is filed. It also narrows the circumstances for when an investigation is allowed. This all but eliminates the ability to investigate conduct unbecoming of a legislator.
Carol Pope recently sent a scathing resignation letter to the LEC. She said she is unable to do the job properly, and the recent legislative session is proof that ethics reform is not a priority. She’s right. Those calling the shots in Springfield don’t want ethics reform.