OP-ED: Illinois: A Potemkin Village of Ethics Reform

Photo from CNN: "Credit: Courtesy Gregor Sailer/Kehrer Galerie"

As indictments and sentences roll in at the federal courthouse in Chicago, our state faces a fresh round of disappointment in our elected officials. Yet in the past two years, we spent a lot of time in the General Assembly discussing ethics reform. However, we have not been really doing anything to implement ethics reform. Resulting from this inaction is a Potemkin village, an artificial appearance, of ethics reform in Springfield. Yet behind the façade of change lies nothing of substance behind it.

For example, in 2021, the General Assembly passed weak legislation to address this issue. Let’s take a tour of this “village” of ethics reform: Prohibiting legislators from lobbying members of the General Assembly for six months after they leave office? Slam! There’s a loophole that will allow current lawmakers to lobby their peers one day after they retire.

Strengthening the Office of the Legislative Inspector General (LIG) to hold lawmakers accountable for corruption? Crash! Current law blocks the referral of any evidence against a member for scrutiny or making a case against the member.

Legislation to strengthen the office of the LIG, banning General Assembly members from lobbying, or giving every legislator an up or down vote on their bill? Thump! They die in the Rules Committee. And with each falling wall, the Potemkin village of ethics reform reveals itself for what it really is: an illusion.

Yes, something is better than nothing, but we could have done so much better. For goodness sake, the Legislative Inspector General resigned in protest of this ethics legislation, calling it a “paper tiger”! And since then, we saw former Speaker Madigan’s indictment on federal charges typically reserved for mob bosses and gangsters—still NOT prompting further anti-corruption reforms from the majority party.

House Republicans have a pillar of our 102nd General Assembly platform, Reimagine Illinois, dedicated to ending Illinois’ culture of corruption. We can lead in revitalizing a government plagued with corruption to become a model of transparency, accountability, and trustworthiness. But to do that, we must take up legislation that will implement true, meaningful reforms and debate them, then give them a chance to be voted on and sent to the Governor’s desk.

Illinoisans don’t deserve a village of ethics reform that falls with the first breeze. Let’s knock down the Potemkin village of ethics reform we have in Springfield now so we can start building a solid foundation of reform that Illinois deserves.