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Rauner proposes stiffer penalties, fines for corruption in Illinois

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Wednesday, May 16, 2018  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach

Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Governor (44) Wehrli, Grant--State House, 41
Gov. Bruce Rauner is proposing stiffer fines and potential jail sentences for state and local corruption.

A bill filed by Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli would increase fines to $150,000 for things like failing to disclose business interests, up from $2,500. Accepting compensation for speaking and accepting compensation for a lawmaker’s official duties could mean up to a year in jail under the proposal.

“Political corruption isn’t just a moral failing, it’s an economic one. Corruption and cronyism have resulted in higher taxes, less economic growth, and special deals for special interests at the expense of the Illinois taxpayer,” Rauner said.

The measure could make a difference, said John Mikesell, professor emeritus at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Relations.

“You’re changing the gamble that a person makes when they decide to be a crook or not,” he said.

Mikesell’s 2014 study had Illinois as the fourth most corrupt state in the nation, estimating that the average taxpayer in the top 10 states pays more than $1,300 for the corrupt behavior.

Illinois has more than 19 inspectors general, more than any other state but Florida, according to a 2016 report from the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School. The report also noted that the office of Legislative Inspector General lacks “adequate powers and safeguards of independence.” It also has been the target of criticism in recent months.

Lawmakers and advocates alike said that the OLIG should not have to ask for permission from the Legislative Ethics Commission, a panel of lawmakers, to investigate claims.

What the state needs, Mikesell said, is proper financial oversight to keep public money safe in the first place.  

“That way you don’t have to get to the point where you have to begin with the punitive measures,” he said.

Bribery of a public official is already a federal felony, carrying up to two years in prison.