Illinois General Assembly Has the Chance To Act on Meaningful Ethics Reform

The state's history of corruption has the public craving good government, empower the inspector general's office as a start to restoring confidence.

Illinois State Capitol (Éovart Caçeir)

Illinois lawmakers have a unique opportunity next year to tackle corruption by empowering the legislative inspector general and strengthening our ethics laws.

During the late hours into the spring legislative session, advocates fought for reforms within our state ethics system. While the new law is an important first step in addressing the issues in Illinois, they fell short of meaningful reform. In return, Inspector General Carol Pope resigned in protest.

Illinois has an unfortunate history of corruption at all levels of government. Reformers sought to create a one-year revolving door policy that would prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists so soon after leaving office -- the General Assembly agreed on six months. Reformers sought more power for the legislative inspector general -- the General Assembly approved minor improvements -- little more than window dressing, really -- by allowing the IG to open investigations without permission, albeit without any subpoena power.

While these steps modestly improve on decades-old problems, there still is much more to be done. My message to lawmakers -- stay the course.

In every profession, there are those who abuse their power. That's no different in politics. Over the last few years, we have witnessed prosecutors charge current and former politicians with crimes such as corruption, ethics violations and bribery.

The actions of a few do not have to define the General Assembly as a whole.

There are many lawmakers in Springfield who have every intention of doing what they think is right for their constituents and for the state of Illinois. We need those lawmakers to make a meaningful attempt at strengthening key ethics laws, and this could start with empowering the role of the legislative inspector general.

This column appeared in the State Journal-Register.