Opinion | Brett Rowland: Cloud of corruption continues to spread in Illinois

Opinion | Brett Rowland: Cloud of corruption continues to spread in Illinois

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Federal agents raided the offices and home of state Sen. Martin Sandoval on Tuesday, another concerning sign of continued corruption in a state where federal investigators have been busy this year.

Sandoval hasn't been charged with a crime. And he hasn't spoken out since the searches were reported. Authorities could be investigating allegations that Sandoval used his position "to steer business to at least one company in exchange for kickbacks," the Chicago Tribune reported, citing an unnamed source.

That's pretty standard fare for Illinois politics. Sandoval's role in pushing through a $45 billion capital infrastructure plan this spring makes that kind of allegation especially concerning.

The capital infrastructure plan is funded, in part, by doubling the state's gas tax to 38 cents a gallon. That gas tax increase went into affect this summer, to the frustration of many drivers. That frustration will likely be compounded now that the chief architect of the state's six-year capital works plan is under federal investigation. The raid raises questions about how that deal got done.

While touring the state to drum up support for the capital bill, Sandoval wasn't shy about telling local officials to get on board with raising the state's gas tax. In fact, he was emphatic about it.

"You’ve got to put up, folks. You’ve got to get on record and support us on the revenue," Sandoval said at one meeting in Peoria. "It’s easy to say 'I need, I need, I need' and it’s a cheap shot just to say 'well, that’s your job, senator.' "

Federal investigators have been busy, both in Chicago and Springfield, this year. It started with Chicago Ald. Ed Burke's corruption indictment. And then state Sen. Tom Cullerton was indicted on a charge of embezzling from a union. He has denied wrongdoing. Federal agents have also conducted raids on the home of a Springfield lobbyist, current and former Chicago aldermen and one of House Speaker Michael Madigan's former top political operatives. All of that has happened this year. To date, only Burke and Cullerton have been charged with crimes.

The FBI and other federal agencies must continue to root out corruption in Illinois. No one wants to live in or do business in a state tainted by corruption.

It's disappointing that the state can't effectively police its own politicians, but that seems to be by design. If lawmakers were serious about changing the culture in Springfield, they would grant the Legislative Inspector General complete autonomy to investigate allegations of wrongdoing.

Voters also have a role to play. Once the federal authorities complete their investigations, voters need to clean house. Corruption is expensive and Illinois is already struggling to pay the debts it has accumulated.

Brett Rowland is Illinois editor of The Center Square, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. Contact Brett at browland@ilnews.org.



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