“I reject the idea that Illinois politics should be defined by its worst actors,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker told the Democratic faithful in Cook County last week.
That’s a wishful sentiment that rings hollow in the face of the federal investigation engulfing the Capitol. How many Illinois lawmakers are on the U.S. attorney’s latest list of “worst actors”? What exactly was going on between the General Assembly and the state’s largest electric utility? Rather than trying to float above it all, Pritzker should capitalize on public outrage to press for ethics reforms that have long been resisted by state lawmakers.
Ethical righteousness is a cyclical thing in Springfield, invariably triggered by a spectacle of staggering public corruption exposed by the feds. The 2003 State Officials and Employees Ethics Act was prompted by the licenses-for-bribes scandal that sent Gov. George Ryan to prison. Another bout of reform fever followed the impeachment and conviction of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, now imprisoned for trying to shake down the CEO of a children’s hospital for campaign cash, among other things.
So why do our ethics laws still need fixing?
One answer is that the General Assembly never fixed the ones that apply to itself. The Illinois Compiled Statutes are riddled with loopholes that enable conflicts of interest by legislators. One set of rules for lawmakers, another set for the rest of Illinois government.