We all have an internal compass that guides our decisions and our behavior. And for those who seek public office, their ethical standards should be beyond reproach.
Most people enter politics for the right reasons. They want to give back to their communities. They want good schools, or good parks or library systems. They see a problem and want to be part of the solution. These community leaders go about their work honestly, ethically, and with little fanfare.
In Springfield, I work alongside many lawmakers who conduct themselves with the highest levels of integrity. They follow the laws and work toward improving the circumstances for the people they represent. They are honorable.
Then there are the others: the bad apples who reject proper ethics and put their own interests above everyone else’s. These people have created a culture of corruption that has caused many to lose faith in Illinois government.
In Illinois, we have seen so many governors and other high-ranking political figures sent to prison that the news media and citizens have become desensitized to it. Study after study ranks Illinois near the top of the list when it comes to the most corrupt states. Rather than responding with outrage, many just consider each new indictment as “business as usual” in the Land of Lincoln.
Since the 1960s, four Illinois governors have gone to prison, and numerous state senators and state representatives have also been convicted of public corruption crimes. Aside from crooked governors, perhaps the most notable public corruption case is the upcoming corruption trial of former Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, which will take place next year. The control and power he yielded was legendary. Any attempt to improve ethics during his reign was squashed like a bug.
I was one of the three lawmakers who filed a petition to create a special investigative committee into the conduct of Mike Madigan. We used a provision within the House of Representatives rules to formally investigate the then-Speaker of the House. Republicans took this responsibility very seriously, but Democrats, controlled by Madigan, engaged in a sham process. In fact, the two individuals chosen to lead the panel were two of Madigan’s most loyal allies. After several months, and testimony gathered from just one witness, the Chair declared the proceedings “done” and the Democrat majority found that Speaker Madigan did not engage in conduct unbecoming of a lawmaker. A few months later, the Chair of the investigative committee who shielded then-Speaker Madigan from the panel’s scrutiny would succeed him and become the next Speaker of the House. Only in Illinois.
It is fortunate that while the state-level panel faced roadblock after roadblock, the federal government was conducting its own investigation of the former Speaker, outside of his influence and power. In March 2022, U.S. Attorney John Lausch, Jr. announced a multi-count indictment against Mike Madigan.
This is why I am such a staunch advocate for stronger ethics in Illinois. I’m tired of our state being the punchline of jokes. Illinois should be great, and it should be led by great leaders of unimpeachable character.
This is my fifth year in the General Assembly and I have filed ethics reform legislation every year. This year is no different. My 2023 legislative agenda includes two ethics bills that would strengthen penalties against those convicted of public corruption crimes by hitting officials where it hurts most— in their wallets. I have a bill that would prohibit disgraced lawmakers from using their campaign funds in criminal defense cases, and another bill that would require a six-figure fine for any state-level elected official who is convicted of a felony. A third measure would strip these convicted criminals of their vanity retirement license plates.
Everyone in Springfield says they are proponents of strong ethics, but when it’s time for the rubber to meet the road, common-sense ethics reforms are blocked by the Majority Party. Time will tell if this year will be any different.