From State Rep Dan Ugaste:
Democrats sabotage push for real ethics reform.
In January 2021, facing a federal bribery and corruption investigation, longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan abruptly stepped down from the speakership. Soon afterward, as questions continued to swirl about his actions and leadership, he left the Illinois House and relinquished his position as head of the Illinois Democratic Party.
Madigan’s departure created what briefly seemed like an opportunity for comprehensive ethics reform to end the culture of corruption in Illinois politics. However, this pathway closed quickly. Facing substantial pressure from advocates, the press, and ordinary citizens in favor of comprehensive ethics reform, Madigan’s successors chose to draft “ethics reform” legislation that made minor changes to the way the General Assembly operates and disciplines its members and top staff. The Democrats’ paltry “ethics reforms” were contained in SB 539, which was approved at the end of the spring session.
Soon after it passed, Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope announced that she would resign, effective Dec. 15, calling the job a “paper tiger” and saying it showed that “true ethics reform is not a priority” for the General Assembly. She specifically alleged the provision limiting her ability to investigate non-governmental ethics violations, and the fact that a complaint would be required for an investigation, tied her hands.
Following that announcement, some legislative Republicans called on Pritzker to use his amendatory veto power to send the bill back for revisions, “striking the provisions that would disempower the legislative inspector general.”
In his message, however, Pritzker did not mention the office of legislative inspector general, but rather its counterpart in the executive branch, the executive inspector general.
Specifically, he pointed to a change made in the bill that says the executive inspector general may receive and investigate complaints of wrongful behavior “without advance approval of the executive ethics commission.”
During floor debate, Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, evoked Pope’s resignation and noted Pritzker didn’t take any proposed GOP changes into account.
“Choosing to vote to uphold this weak amendatory veto is doubling down on the fact that the ethics reform that you passed takes away the ability to have a true and independent watchdog over this body,” Bourne, who initially voted for the bill, said in floor debate. “Choosing to side with this weak amendatory veto is choosing to side to give cover to politicians, rather than having an opportunity for the public to have faith in our government.”
House Republicans were united in our opposition to the Governor’s weak amendatory veto, and House Democrats were unable to muster the votes to accept the amendatory veto after many of their members had left for the night, resulting in an impasse. SB 539 was held up on the House floor, with no final action on ethics reform taking place during the August 31 session.