A summer of discontent has given way to a tumultuous autumn marked by suspicion and, in some cases, surrender for Chicago Democrat politicians in the wake of a sweeping federal corruption investigation into misconduct and self-dealing.
Various news reports over the past year have provided stunning details of raids by the FBI and IRS, and revealed disturbing allegations that point to a culture of corruption among the powerful lobbyists and elected officials directly involved with the passage of capital infrastructure and gambling expansion plans.
To date, Sen. Tom Cullerton has been indicted for defrauding the Teamsters union, former Senate Transportation Committee Chair and still State Sen. Martin Sandoval and several of his associates' homes and offices have been raided, and Rep. Luis Arroyo has been arrested and charged with attempted bribery.
On the first day of the fall 2019 veto session, House Republicans held a Capitol news conference to announce the introduction of HJR87, a Resolution that seeks to establish a State Ethics Task Force. At the same time, news was breaking that Arroyo was arrested the previous Friday on charges of bribing a sitting state senator to take official action to legalize sweepstakes style gambling machines.
News of Arroyo's arrest started a chain of events that included House Republicans demanding Arroyo's resignation and taking action to create a Special Investigating Committee to investigate his alleged wrongdoing.
By the end of the three-day Session, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Republican Leader Jim Durkin had assigned members to the Committee and scheduled a meeting. Rep. Arroyo chose to resign his seat before the Committee could meet.
While the FBI and IRS are hard at work investigating and stamping out corruption, and as more news on the subject of corruption is likely to break in the coming weeks and months, we as legislators have an urgent responsibility to reform Illinois' lax ethics laws to help restore public trust in the General Assembly.
To that end, in addition to our sponsorship of the State Ethics Task Force Resolution (HJR87), we have also signed on as co-sponsors to a new, tougher package of ethics bills. House Republican leader Jim Durkin announced the introduction of new bills aimed at tackling corruption and cleaning up Illinois' ethics laws.
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The goal of the package is to bring Illinois in line with the best practices followed in other states and stop further erosion of public trust in state government. HB 3954 would require changes to statements of economic interests to include more details and make disclosure requirements more like what judges must disclose.
House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 36 would require a special election to fill General Assembly seat vacancies through the same laws that govern party primaries. This will prevent political power brokers from handpicking replacement candidates in a smoke-filled backroom and give the people a voice in who represents them.
HR 588 would allow any chief sponsor of any bill with five or more co-sponsors from each party to call the bill for an up or down vote in a standing Committee. Longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan currently owns a one-man stranglehold on the legislative process in Springfield. If he doesn't want it, it doesn't pass. HR 588 would significantly change that dynamic.
HB 3948 would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouse, and their immediate live-in relatives from lobbying local government units. Arroyo just happened to be a paid lobbyist for a company that wants sweepstakes-style gambling machines legalized in Illinois. He was arrested for allegedly bribing a senator with money from the company he worked for to take official action in the Senate to pass the bill. We are all thankful that he was caught before the scheme could unfold.
HB 361 would enhance criminal and financial penalties for elected officials that break ethics laws. The fine in some cases could be as high as $1 million for certain offenses.
Another bill we feel is very important to stop corruption in the long-term would be the "revolving-door" ban for legislators that wish to become lobbyists. HB 165 would prevent a member of the General Assembly from becoming a lobbyist or engaging in lobbying efforts in Springfield for a period of two years after leaving office. This is a common-sense measure that has been stuck in Speaker Madigan's House Rules Committee since its introduction in January 2019.
Elected officials can file and co-sponsor bills all day long, but the only way that we will get these important changes made is to get Gov. Pritzker, Speaker Madigan, and Senate President John Cullerton to move on them. Pritzker should answer our calls to help us clean up Springfield and put his support behind these important changes.
Action will require political will on the part of some deeply entrenched Chicago politicians to get these bills over the finish line. But, no matter the lift, no matter the ask, these ethics bills must become law if Illinois is to restore any hope that 'business as usual' will be relegated to the ash heap of Illinois' long history of public corruption.
Your Southern Illinois legislative delegation to Springfield has shown our cards. We have made our stand on your behalf. We are fully on board with cleaning up state government and rooting out corruption. We urge our Democrat colleagues and their party's powerful political leaders to join us. The fall 2019 Veto Session resumed this week, and the time to act to strengthen our ethics laws is now.
Terri Bryant, Dave Severin and Patrick Windhorst are Republican House representatives in Southern Illinois. Bryant represents Illinois' 115th District, Severin the 117th and Windhorst the 118th.