Home Federal Amid sweeping federal probe, Illinois lawmakers eye ethics reforms

Amid sweeping federal probe, Illinois lawmakers eye ethics reforms

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Amid a sweeping federal corruption probe and with two state lawmakers facing felony charges, some Illinois lawmakers want stricter ethics rules. 

On the first day of the fall session, lawmakers scrambled after federal prosecutors indicted state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago. He was charged with bribing an unnamed state senator to support gambling legislation that would have benefited a client of his private lobbying firm. He has pleaded not guilty.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, filed a bill to restrict state lawmakers from working as lobbyists.

“Currently we have a ban in place that members of the General Assembly can’t lobby the state. We should extend that ban to the remainder of the local governments of the state,” Demmer said.

House Bill 3947 would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Arroyo managed Spartacus 3 LLC, which did lobbying work in Chicago on gambling-related issues. Arroyo was charged with bribing an unnamed state senator to advance gambling-related legislation.

This summer, federal agents raided the home and offices of state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero. They were looking for information related to a possible kickback scheme that could have touched on several industries, including energy, gambling and transportation. Sandoval has not been charged with a crime.

Before that, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, was charged with embezzling more than $200,000 from the Teamsters union. He has pleaded not guilty.

Arroyo, Sandoval and Cullerton have all kept their elected positions. Arroyo was removed as chairman of a House appropriations committee. Sandoval was removed as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Cullerton was transferred from chairman of the Senate Labor Committee to chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, a move that allowed him to keep a stipend on top of his base lawmaker salary.

Another measure from Senate Republicans would be to give the Legislative Inspector General the ability to investigate claims of wrongdoing against state lawmakers without having to get permission from a panel of state lawmakers. That’s something state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said will help address a culture of corruption at the statehouse.

“There’s a culture, but the culture is promoted by a system that protects it and that’s exactly what you have here,” Righter said.

Earlier this summer state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, was successful in getting the Legislative Inspector General independence to investigate allegations of harassment involving lawmakers without permission from the commission. She said that “the fox shouldn’t be guarding the henhouse” on other alleged ethics violations.

“The Legislative Inspector General can still not move on their own authority to go forward on an investigation if it is ethics or other issues,” Bush said.

Both Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said they look forward to working on issues to tighten up ethics rules at the capitol.

Cullerton said he wants to bring both chambers together for other ideas for reforms.

“It doesn’t do any good to just have one chamber deal with something. I think it’s important to look and see if we need any statutes changed,” Cullerton said.

Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said he appreciated the idea of a joint committee of sorts, but he pushed for action on a measure to give the Legislative Inspector General independence to investigate wrongdoing without going to a panel of lawmakers for permission.

“This is an idea that we can act on now. And it’s an idea, it’s already been vetted,” Barickman said. “It’s simple to do.”

Barickman said he wants to act on the measure before the end of the fall session. Cullerton said he looks forward to working with Republicans and others to get effective results.