Chesney Guest Column: Madigan indictment illustrates immediate need for ethics reform

Public trust in Illinois state government is at an all-time low following the recent indictment of former House Speaker Mike Madigan on 22 counts of federal racketeering charges that detail how he used his official simultaneous positions as Speaker of the House, Chicago’s 13th Ward Democratic Committeeman and Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois to run a criminal enterprise for more than a decade.

I was one of the three original petitioners to begin the process of investigating the corruption of Speaker Madigan, a move that eventually led to his resignation last year. Unfortunately, Illinois House Democrats killed our investigation and helped allow Madigan to quietly walk out the back door of public service. They swept the serious allegations of misconduct under the rug to allow Madigan a dignified exit. Shame on them for not calling out his corruption as wrong and hurtful to Illinois taxpayers. Working families are who have paid the cost for this corruption in Illinois.

First and foremost, we should deny Mike Madigan any state honors. Earlier this month I filed HB 5718, legislation requiring the state to remove the name and likeness of the disgraced Michael J. Madigan from the Capitol building and other state properties. The State of Illinois should not honor Madigan’s legacy of corruption with portraits, plaques and other accolades, especially in the “people’s house.”

If Democrats are serious about ridding the state of corruption they should support my initiative to remove the honors typically reserved for those who we revere, not those who perpetuated corruption.

Rooting out corruption and restoring public trust in state government requires much more than symbolism, however. Upon assuming the gavel from Madigan last year, House Speaker Chris Welch said that ethics needs to be a priority. It’s been more than a year now and the fact is, the Democratic majority continues to drag their feet on proposed reforms that should be easy for us to reach quick bipartisan agreement on.

We can start by exposing and eliminating conflicts of interest among legislators by strengthening requirements on economic disclosure statements, which give citizens the ability to hold lawmakers accountable. Illinois should adopt a model of disclosure that will expose conflicts such as when a legislator has a personal financial interest in certain bills they could vote on. If a state legislator has a personal or business investment that would stand to profit from the passage of a bill, they should be required to publicly disclose that.  

While we’re on the topic of conflicts of interest, let’s acknowledge the need to ban legislators from simultaneously working as lobbyists for private industry and special interest groups. Allowing members of the General Assembly to also be government consultants and lobbyists has created dysfunction and self-dealing. An outright lobbying ban for General Assembly members would stop the practice immediately and be a good first step.

Another common-sense reform would be to prohibit politicians from using campaign funds to pay for their legal defense in a criminal case. Last year, I filed House Bill 1919 as an initiative to put that proposal into state law. House Democrats buried it in committee and denied it even a hearing.

I will continue to urge the Speaker and House Democrats to start working with us to back up their own promises with meaningful and specific action in the form of legislation to enact tough and meaningful ethics reform this year. Illinois taxpayers should not have to wait any longer for us to get serious about ending the culture of corruption that hangs over Springfield.