Ethics

Ethics reforms legislation mostly symbolic gesture

By State Representative Brad Halbrook

In the last few hours of the spring legislative session, the Democrats brought ethics reform legislation to the floor. No one on the Republican side of the aisle had seen any of the language until it was introduced in the waning hours of the spring session.

That in and of itself ought to send up alarm bells. Part of the reason Illinois needs an ethics reform bill in the first place is the lack of transparency and the propensity for late-night maneuverings to pass controversial bills while most people are sleeping. Passing an ethics bill late at night hardly inspires confidence that the bill is on the up and up.

Additionally, Republicans were not involved in crafting the legislation. We were just handed this bill at the last minute and asked to vote for it and by the way if you oppose it – you are against ethics reform.

The legislation was intended to address the culture of corruption in Springfield and restore confidence in the integrity of the legislative process, but the bill does not come anywhere near close to meeting that mark. In fact, the Better Government Association just released an editorial asking the question about the ethics bill, “Is that all?”

The question I have is what will truly change in Springfield to root out corruption with the passage of this bill? Immediately after the vote on the ethics bill took place, a legislator stood up to publicly thank the lobbyist who paid for pizza for legislators to eat on the House floor.

The more things change…the more they stay the same.

The point is nothing will permanently change in Springfield. Powerful special interests will still have the power they have always had. Sure, we may have banned fundraisers during session including the day before and the day after scheduled session dates but let’s be honest, the federal government is not investigating former House Speaker Michael Madigan because he held fundraisers in Springfield the day before a scheduled session day.

The ethics reforms do not have an outright ban on legislators being able to lobby other units of government. The revolving door provision requires legislators to have a six-month cooling off period before leaving the General Assembly to become lobbyists. But this provision does not take effect until 2023, which means legislators can any time between now and then and legally lobby the next day. 

We constantly hear the phrase, “this is not a perfect bill, but it is a good start,” on the floor of the House. The problem is we have a lot of “good starts”, but we seldom have any strong finishes. All we seem to do is nibble at the edges and we never follow through and actually solve the problems we are facing in this state.

While there are certainly elements of the bill that are good ideas and good reforms, the process to get an ethics bill should have included Republicans and should have been more transparent. 

If the majority party were serious about ethics reform, why didn’t they take up a resolution I introduced to remove Frank Mautino as Auditor General? The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the campaign fund of former State Representative Frank Mautino and current Auditor General violated state law when it spent money on gas and car repairs for personal vehicles. 

How can we put a stop to the culture of corruption in Illinois when the person checking for corruption has these ethical concerns surrounding him?

Instead of addressing these concerns, we were given a water-downed ethics bill that does little to change the culture in Springfield. The influence peddling and insider dealing that has become the hallmark of state government will continue unabated. 

There is no teeth in this legislation. It is nothing but an opportunity for legislators to send out a press release touting how they supported ethics reform. Nothing about this bill will change the culture of corruption in Illinois. I voted “NO” to protest the process that allows a weak ethics bill to be held up as a serious reform effort. We need meaningful reform in Illinois and what the General Assembly just sent the Governor to sign is woefully insufficient. 

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  • Brad Halbrook
    published this page in Issues 2021-06-02 22:25:03 -0500