Chesney Guest Column: Drum Beat on Ethics Reform to Continue at State Capitol

Expect the drum beat on ethics reform to continue at the State Capitol as more legislators become embroiled in what is now apparently a web of corruption being unwoven by President Trump’s Federal Department of Justice.

While Governor Pritzker attempted to lay out his annual priorities to legislators in his State of the State speech at the end of January, the cloud of corruption and indictments dogged the Democrat Governor in delivering his second annual address the same week as it was announced that Senator Martin Sandoval, the godfather of the gas-tax, was accepting a plea deal in return for his cooperation with federal investigators.  Sandoval is singing a song to save himself.  It seems the feds are widening their investigation of corruption among Democrat officials accused of misdeeds in the legislature as well as corrupt local officials from the Northeast corner of our state.  Bribery and self-dealing may just be the tip of the iceberg before the song is over.

Even as John Cullerton exited the Senate Presidency this past month, he did not leave his role as head of the debt-laden Senate Democrat campaign committee without returning hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunded dues from the indebted organization to two former members under indictment.  These two ill-famed officials, in violation of the public trust, may now use the funds Cullerton sent them for their own legal defense of their purported crimes.  Again, this practice is legal under current Illinois law.

There are Democrats, as well as Republicans, that are sincerely disgusted by this behavior.  State Representative Maurice West (D-Rockford) joined me as Chief Co-Sponsor of my legislation, House Bill 4087, to prohibit use of campaign funds for the legal defense of crimes.  Representative West also joined me as a Chief Co-Sponsor of my legislation, House Bill 4085, which institutes a minimum fine of $100,000 for legislators convicted of a felony in performance of their job as a public servant.  Representative West shares a desire to close these ethical loopholes that are apparent.  His common-sense approach may buck some of those in his own party, but places him squarely with the People of Illinois, who are fed up with corruption.  Representative West’s support of these issues should be commended!

Unfortunately, much as it may seem so, over the past year, federal investigators cannot indict us into a more ethical state government.  That work rests with legislators who need to close loopholes and prove to Illinoisans they are worthy of the trust that has been placed in them.  That’s why I am sponsoring these two measures to do my part to make improvements.  Other legislators are championing further measures, which are also needed. 

This is not about which party gets credit for ending corruption. Subversion of our Republic through corruption and self-dealing threatens the foundation of our government systems and the trust that is foundational to good government.  May we look back on 2020 as the year we did something about it and set Illinois on a better course for our future.