Madigan’s indictment prompts calls for reform | Chicago News


While former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to 22 bribery charges, business was largely business as usual at the state house from Illinois where, until last year, Madigan ruled the House for nearly two years since 1983.

For Reform for Illinois director Alisa Kaplan, that’s the problem.

While Madigan was singular in his grip on power, he’s not the only so-called bad apple.

“He is certainly not the only person in Illinois to have been charged with public corruption, even in the past few months. We just saw this grim litany of investigations, indictments, convictions, plea deals from a wide range of local and state officials,” Kaplan said. “This is not just one example or one bad apple. It is a system that needs to be changed. »

In particular, the campaign finance system.

Over time, Madigan amassed tens of millions of dollars in the various campaign accounts he controlled as president and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

“And he used that money to maintain and enforce loyalty around him. He would give it to candidates and officials who were loyal to him and use it to fund their opponents if they weren’t. And so that was really one of the main sources of his power,” Kaplan said. “If we really want to change the system to make sure someone like this doesn’t happen again, we have to look at all those sources of power that led to one man having so much control over his party.”

Illinois in 2009, when Madigan was president, set caps on campaign contributions, but Kaplan says the system is weak and plagued with loopholes that allow top leaders in legislatures to effectively circumvent the limits.

This allows them to exercise a level of control over other lawmakers that she says is “unusual and dangerous.”

Reform for Illinois advocates the creation of public campaign finance, so that candidates do not have to depend on leaders.

Kaplan also says the legislature needs a truly independent watchdog; the former inspector general resigned, calling the office a “paper tiger”.

In their indictment, prosecutors accuse Madigan of running a full-fledged business that involved

using his public office to help direct cases to his private company, Madigan & Getzendanner, a law firm that handles property tax appeals.

Outside jobs have also brought other officials into trouble with the law, such as former state senator Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park), former state representative Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) and Alderman of Chicago Ed Burke (14th Ward)

Kaplan says it’s time to have a serious conversation about reducing conflicts of interest in outside employment.

“There is nothing that undermines public confidence in their democracy than to think that their representatives care more about their own personal bank accounts than the public,” she said.

The current House Speaker and House Republican Leader also each work in law firms, but State Senate Speaker Don Harmon quit his firm when he won the top job. raised in the Senate.

Legislating in Illinois is supposed to be a part-time job, and while Harmon says he’s reluctant to change that, he limits outside work for top legislators.

“I’ve found it very helpful to be able to focus exclusively on my work as Senate Speaker and I think it may be useful to consider that for legislative leaders,” Harmon said. “But I think there’s a real benefit to having a citizens’ legislature, where people come to the General Assembly with day-to-day experiences as undertakers or farmers or teachers or social workers.”

Harmon says that with General Assembly leadership changes and an ethics law passed last year that creates a revolving door that will force lawmakers to disclose more about outside revenue, it’s a new day. in Springfield.

Republicans say there is more to do.

“I ask everyone in this chamber to join me in standing up for real reform and lending practices that have brought massive corruption and scandal to our state,” said state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi ( R-Elmhurst).

Mazzochi said Democrats are suspending ethics measures, such as a bill to end aldermen’s privilege in Chicago, and a bill that would bar officials from using their campaign funds to pay court fees. criminal defense, as Madigan does.

The day after Madigan was charged, Governor JB Pritzker signaled that there was room for improvement.

“I am fully committed to rooting out the scourge of corruption,” Pritzker said. “We have much, much more to do and it is clear from an indictment like this that our work is not done.”

Kaplan said she hoped Pritzker meant it.

In 21, Pritzker ignored calls to use his veto pen to strengthen the Ethics Act (Public Law 102-0664/ Senate Bill 539), which critics say has only scratched the surface of issues such as a revolving door for lawmakers lobbying and empowering the legislative inspector general.

Meanwhile, Democratic State Rep. Curtis Tarver of Chicago is sponsoring a measure (HB5046) that would make state legislators ineligible to serve again if convicted of a crime while in office.

Local officials convicted of crimes are barred from subsequently running for municipal office, but state law only bars state officials convicted of election-related crimes from attempting to return to Illinois government.

“Public officials are responsible for creating and maintaining the rule of law,” Tarver said in a statement. “Anyone who disregards this sacred responsibility is unfit to hold public office, and this bill will make certain that he cannot.”

The measure is currently stalled in Springfield.


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