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Some Illinois lawmakers looking for movement on ethics reforms next week

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Thursday, November 7, 2019  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Pay to Play, Corruption Barickman, Jason--State House, 105 , Lang, Lou--State House, 16 , Link, Terry--State Senate, 30
Illinois Republicans are looking to take the lawmaker-held leash off of the legislative inspector general next week as the state continues to digest the latest details of wide-ranging federal investigations into corruption in Illinois.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, introduced his legislation with other lawmakers late last month and said he wants to see the state senate take up the bill in the closing days of the veto session beginning next Monday. 

It’s not what his bill would do, but what it would ban that would afford the Legislative Inspector General greater autonomy.

The bill says the Legislative Ethics Commission “shall adopt no rule requiring the Legislative Inspector General to seek the Commission's advance approval before commencing any investigation or issuing a subpoena,” according to the text of the measure.

The eight-lawmaker panel’s partisan composition lends itself motivation to obscure investigations into fellow lawmakers. Being made up of four Republicans and four Democrats, a party-line split vote means the Legislative Inspector General’s potential investigation is shut down, never to be publicly released. 

Some of the commission's members themselves have come under fire.

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, sits on the commission and is a former chairman. He’s been identified as a cooperating witness in a federal investigation that led to the arrest of state Rep. Luis Arroyo for attempted bribery. Link has denied it. In an indictment, federal prosecutors claimed Arroyo offered a bribe to an unnamed state senator who was cooperating with the FBI after admitting to filing false tax returns.

Former Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, another former commission chairman, was embroiled in an ethics scandal of his own when a woman came forward accusing him of a long pattern of harassment and retaliation. The legislative inspector general later determined those claims were unfounded.

Each of the last three legislative inspectors general has expressed frustrations with the lack of autonomy in the role.

“...there is an inherent conflict of interest where legislators are empowered to prevent the LIG from investigating allegations of misconduct of legislators or senior staff,” Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope wrote in a letter to legislative leaders in July.

If Barickman’s bill gets a committee hearing, he said he would invite the current and former legislative inspectors general to speak about their experiences. 

Senate Bill 2297 had yet to be sent to a committee for consideration as of Wednesday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he wants to tighten ethics rules under the Statehouse dome, Politico reported. 

“I am disgusted that some people in politics seem to think that the old way of doing politics is the right way of doing politics,” Pritzker said Tuesday at a fundraiser in Chicago. “And it is time to change the way politics is done in this state, period."

WBEZ reported that federal authorities had opened an investigation into Pritzker and his wife over a property tax appeal that saved them $330,000 after contractors removed the toilets from a home they bought next to their Gold Coast Mansion to have it declared uninhabitable. Pritzker later paid the money back.