Right now in Chicago you can walk, bus, and probably even segway your way through a rich historical tour of mobsters, kickback schemes, patronage, and cronyism. Aside from all that entertainment and tourism value, it’s clear that corruption remains a serious problem for Illinois. The attorney general, the state’s chief legal officer, has a critical role to play in addressing that problem. Yet, the current attorney general, Lisa Madigan, said the office was not empowered enough to independently take on public corruption. After 16 years in office, Madigan is stepping aside and, in response to the BGA Policy Team’s questionnaire, the three candidates for the office in the Nov. 6 election said legislative changes might be needed to make the office a better champion of government ethics and integrity.
In response to the BGA’s questions, “How will you improve anti-corruption, lobbying, and ethics laws,” and, “How will you expand the attorney general’s role in prosecuting public corruption,” Republican nominee Erika Harold wrote, “I will continue to advocate for the expansion of the office’s investigative tools, such as subpoena and grand jury powers.” She also would seek to expand conflict-of-interest rules for legislators. She says lawmakers “should be restricted from representing individuals and entities in property tax appeals.” Democratic nominee Kwame Raoul also said he is open to a “discussion about expanding the office’s power under state law,” including the power to empanel a grand jury. Libertarian nominee Bubba Harsy takes a different approach, saying he would focus his legislative efforts on creating “longer prison sentences for corrupt government officials.”
All the attorney general candidates are hopeful that they can do more to address public corruption, even without changing state law. For example, Harsy said he believes that an existing law called the Quo Warranto Act gives him the power to fire county state’s attorneys who are not “properly enforcing anti-corruption laws.” Quo warranto is Latin – or lawyer speak – for “by what warrant” and the act, common across the country, sets up a process to test a person’s legal right to hold an office. While Illinois’ act does give the attorney general the power to start that process, we know of no attempts to use the act in the way Harsy describes.
Raoul noted, “While properly resourcing the office of the Public Access Counselor, I will also ensure that my office is able to lend the necessary resources to all levels of law enforcement to go after public corruption.” The Public Access Counselor works in a unit within the attorney general’s office to help the public obtain access to government documents and meetings and resolves disputes when access is denied. While answering another BGA question, Raoul clarified that one of his “top priorities will be assuring that the Public Access Counselor is appropriately staffed and resourced so the backlog [of disputes] is eliminated and future requests and complaints are responded to in a timely fashion.” In response to the same question, Harold also committed to “advocate for the allocation of additional resources,” to that unit.
In addition to public corruption and the public’s right to information, the BGA Policy Team asked the attorney general candidates about cybersecurity, conflicts of interest, political independence, and more.
You can read more about how the attorney general candidates would approach their roles on ilvotes.org. It’s the place to go to educate yourself about the candidates to make sure your vote is an informed one. Read up before you head to the polls.