– Abraham Lincoln
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the need for meaningful ethics reforms, the fall veto session ended with little being done to address corruption in state government.
There’s now a legislative task force formed to deal with corruption, but nothing close to the sweeping anti-corruption reforms that we need.
With a growing number of lawmakers under investigation and even one member of the General Assembly accused of bribery, there is a clear pattern of corruption that must be addressed.
It is the responsibility of legislators to fix this problem.
There is nothing inherently wrong with establishing a task force to address these concerns, but haven’t we been down this road before? We need solutions, not commissions. If the General Assembly does not act now, when?
One place to start would be to get tough on General Assembly members who use their office to commit crimes.
I have filed legislation (House Bill 3951) that would add five years to the sentence of any legislator who uses his or her service in the General Assembly to commit a state felony.
Tougher penalties on legislators who commit crimes will help stop corruption. This legislation is the kind of reform we need to finally change the culture of corruption in Illinois.
We also must stop the bizarre practice of limiting the ability of the legislative inspector general to release information to the public.
Right now, the legislative inspector general does not have the authority to release information about suspected wrongdoing by legislators without the approval of the legislative ethics commission.
The problem is that the commission is governed by legislators.
It quite literally is the fox guarding the hen house.
I introduced legislation (H.B. 3962) that would require any founded summary report by the legislative inspector general alleging unethical or wrongful conduct by a member of the General Assembly be made public.
A buried report about legislator misconduct to the legislative ethics commission from former Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter prompted this legislation.
According to an op-ed she wrote for the Chicago Tribune on April 23, Porter tried to get her report to be made public, but the commission refused.
We need reforms with teeth.
The current legislative ethics commission structure is a joke.
There is a buried report about wrongdoing by a member of the General Assembly, and the public has no idea what is going on because the commission made up of legislators won’t authorize the release of the report.
Republican Leader Jim Durkin continues to refuse to tell the public what he knows about the report and won’t publicly ask the House Republicans on the commission to support its release.
Corruption is bipartisan in Springfield.
The public has a right to know what is in these reports, and if the members of the commission won’t do the right thing on their own, then we need legislation to compel them to do it.
That is what my legislation does.
We can authorize an endless number of commissions, but unless we increase the penalties for wrongdoing and allow the legislative inspector general to act independently of the legislative ethics commission, it will be hard to truly change the culture of corruption in Springfield.
We know what needs to be done. Now we need for our political leaders to have the moral courage to get it done.
It is time to get serious about ethics. We can’t put off the inevitable. The responsibilities of tomorrow are coming due.
• David McSweeney is a Republican state representative from Barrington Hills.