Better Government Association Puts Forth Agenda for Illinois Ethics Reform

Sept. 8, 2020 — The Better Government Association (BGA) today released a comprehensive blueprint for ethics reform, with recommendations for tightening Illinois laws to rein in misconduct that undermines public trust in government.

The BGA’s work comes in response to a statewide public corruption investigation focused on lobbying, ghost payrolling and bribery. To date, eight elected officials have been charged or pled guilty, and the U.S. Attorney’s office has issued subpoenas to, but brought no charges against, the nation’s longest-serving statehouse speaker, Michael J. Madigan.

Drawing on extensive analysis of current and past ethics reform efforts, the BGA’s policy team outlined changes that address lobbying activity, conflicts of interest, legislative oversight and checks on consolidation of power. The new BGA reform agenda points to examples of stronger ethics rules from other states and local governments as models.

After past major incidents of public corruption, such as the convictions of governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, reform efforts have been piecemeal and incomplete. This has left Illinois with some of the weakest ethics laws in the nation.

“Every time there is a big case, ethics commissions are established, but few changes are enacted,” said BGA president and CEO David Greising. “The ongoing investigation shows that it is long past time to adopt and enforce rules to ensure that lawmakers act in the public interest, not their self-interest. We have put together a roadmap for real reform.”

To shape an effective agenda, the BGA’s policy team studied the findings of past ethics commissions, the recommendations of current and former legislative inspectors general and the ongoing work of the Illinois Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform.

The Joint Commission held months of hearings before COVID-19 interrupted its work. The commission’s scope was limited to proposing changes to five specific laws governing lobbyists, conflicts of interest and legislative conduct. Lawmakers from both parties have called out the need for ethics reform, but legislative leaders have not acted.

“Half measures will get us only halfway to reform,” said the BGA’ s director of policy, Marie Dillon. “We call on Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the General Assembly to put words into action.”