Chesney Guest Column: A Legacy of Shame: Another Illinois Democrat Indicted for Corruption

If you missed the news, Illinois’ reputation for political corruption has been sadly reinforced yet again. State Senator Emil Jones III, a Chicago Democrat, was indicted on September 20 on bribery charges and for lying to the FBI. Jones is accused of taking $5,000 from a red light camera company in exchange for voting against legislation that would require traffic studies for the camera systems.

As the latest in a string of high-profile Illinois Democrat legislators caught up in corruption charges, the Jones indictment illustrates why Democrats refuse to pass meaningful ethics reform in Illinois. It is because they are too corrupt. 

In the last decade, ten sitting or former elected Democrat state officials were charged in federal court with public corruption related activities, including:

State Representative Derrick Smith, convicted of taking a cash bribe, which Smith called “cheddar,” for a letter of support.

State Representative Connie Howard, who plead guilty to fraud in a scholarship scam and was sentenced to three months in prison.

State Representative Luis Arroyo, guilty of public corruption for bribing State Senator Terry Link with a $2,500 payment, which Arroyo called “the jackpot.”

State Senator Terry Link, who plead guilty to income tax evasion.

State Representative Eddie Acevedo, who plead guilty to tax evasion relating to income earned as a lobbyist.

State Senator Tom Cullerton, who plead guilty to fraudulently receiving salary and benefits from a labor union.

State Senator Annazette Collins, indicted for tax evasion relating to income earned as a lobbyist.

State Senator Martin Sandoval, who plead guilty to bribery charges.

Former State Representative Mike McClain, indicted on charges of racketeering, bribery, fraud and extortion.

Last but certainly not least, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, indicted on charges of racketeering, bribery, fraud and extortion.

When will Illinois Democrats say enough is enough? Upon taking the gavel from Madigan in 2021, new House Speaker Chris Welch said that ethics needs to be a priority. It’s been almost two years now and the fact is, Democrats have failed to pass 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 lawmakers to also be government consultants and lobbyists has created dysfunction and self-dealing. An outright lobbying ban for sitting legislators 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. As of this writing, House Democrats continue to deny my bill a hearing by keeping it bottled up in committee.

In the wake of the Senator Jones indictment, it is more clear than ever why Illinois needs ethics reform without delay. Northwest Illinois families can count on me to lead the charge against corruption when we return to Springfield this fall.

State Representative Andrew Chesney advocates on behalf of the 89th District in Illinois. As a legislator, his policy priorities include cutting taxes, creating jobs, and government accountability and transparency. Learn more at RepChesney.com.