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Consensus in Illinois grows around fully disclosing citizen legislators’ conflicts of interest


Monday, February 10, 2020  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Governor (44) , Legislature (56) , Pay to Play, Corruption Madigan, Michael--State House, 22 , Martwick, Robert--State House, 19

Although some say they are “full-time legislators,” Illinois state lawmakers are considered part-time, but there's growing debate about how outside employment should be handled.

Should lawmakers be allowed to work as lobbyists to lobby local governments? What about working as a farmer, dentist, teacher or lawyer? Are there other conflicts of interest?

State Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said the debate is an important one..

“Do we want a citizen government or a professional government?” Martwick said. “If we have a professional government then you look at raising pay and decreasing outside employment. I would support that. … Certainly conflicts of interest are a problem here.”

Former Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter said Thursday it was valuable for the legislature to have diversity in professions and expertise, but there should be full disclosure of any potential conflicts, such as farmers voting on measures affecting farmland, for example.

“And it may be that that’s not what’s motivating him. He doesn’t care that he’s a farmer,” Porter said. “He just thinks that this is the very best thing for Illinois and that’s fine, but it’s still a conflict and it needs to be disclosed.”

When asked if someone such as House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, should continue to work with a law firm that handles property tax appeals when he controls state legislation that deals with property taxes, Martwick said other legislators have conflicts, too.

“Madigan’s is fun to make fun of because it’s what he does, but it’s not more of a conflict of interest than anyone who serves in this legislature,” Martwick said. “Whether they a be a teacher, a police officer, a business owner or a farmer, everyone has conflicts in their service, and I think the key with ethics reforms is to make sure we have adequate disclosures.”

Martwick also is a property tax appeals lawyer.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said since he took office that Illinois has a citizen legislature where people have outside jobs in all fields. But Pritzker doesn’t want members of the General Assembly to work as lobbyists while in office.

“You have a lot of influence if you’re a legislator, [lobbying local government as a legislator] seems not right to me,” Pritzker said. “And we ought to get rid of it, and I called for that.”

Pritzker also said there should be more public disclosure of any possible conflicts of interest legislators may have when conducting public business.

Members of the General Assembly are among the highest-paid state legislators in the country.