When powerful special interests believe they can “influence and reward” politicians, it usually does not bode well for the rest of us.
That is precisely what came to light when public utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) admitted to bribery allegations and agreed to pay a $200 million fine. In announcing the deal, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John R. Lausch Jr. reminded us about “the very stubborn public corruption problem we have here in Illinois.” As if we could forget.
Now that ComEd has acknowledged a years-long campaign to influence House Speaker Michael Madigan, he too, is reportedly under investigation. And Madigan is also the subject of a $450 million lawsuit based on his role in the racketeering conspiracy. If the accusations against him prove true, Madigan will join a long list of Illinois officials involved in corruption.
Illinois is the laughingstock of the nation precisely because so often our politicians place their self-interest — and that of those who “influence and reward” them — ahead of the best interests of the taxpayers. While it is gratifying to have Lausch’s assurance that “federal investigations of corruption in Illinois are ongoing,” why would we give politicians more power in the midst of ongoing public corruption scandals?
Politicians promise that if we amend the Illinois constitution to allow for a graduated state income tax, only a wealthy few will see their taxes go up. Politicians are asking the good people of the great state of Illinois to trust them when they say most folks’ tax bill won’t increase.
True enough, they can point to a rate schedule that seemingly confirms those statements.
But those introductory rates are transitory. Experience tells us they will rise — possibly during the middle of the night on the last day of a lame-duck session, or maybe in an abrupt turn of events over Independence Day weekend, as was the case for the last two massive income tax hikes in 2011 and 2017, respectively.
With apologies to those legislators who truly do honestly serve their constituents with integrity, Illinoisans are beginning to more fully appreciate the Theodore Roosevelt quip, “When they call the roll in the Senate, the senators do not know whether to answer ‘present’ or ‘not guilty.’” It seems we can’t even trust the state’s Legislative Ethics Commission, as State Sen. Terry Link resigned from that panel after being charged with tax fraud.
A shameful series of events has unfolded over just the past year. Multiple legislators have resigned in disgrace. It came to light that a sitting lawmaker wore a wire to secretly record another lawmaker accepting a bribe. Another is under indictment. The FBI has raided the capitol building. As the U.S. attorney said, his investigation continues.
Since 1976, Illinois has seen 1,750 convictions for public corruption. We have, by far, the lowest trust in state government of any polity in the country. And these unhappy numbers come with more than just the cost of moral indignation. One study pegged the concrete costs of corruption at $550 million a year.
That is not the track record of a government that should be trusted with a blank check.
Commonwealth Edison’s wrongdoing “benefitted the company by paving the way for higher electric rates.” Should we be comfortable making it easier for politicians to raise income taxes on middle-class families?
But the consequences for the state and its taxpayers go far beyond this singular admission. So long as corruption among our politicians remains “a stubborn problem,” as the U.S. attorney has said, and while this pall of investigative and prosecutorial scrutiny hangs over the statehouse, voters should view the promises made by politicians with an extra dose of skepticism.
Illinois voters hold the power to send a message that they do not trust their politicians with more power by rejecting the graduated income tax amendment on Election Day.
Andrew Nelms is senior advisor to Americans for Prosperity Action Illinois.
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