While this week wasn’t a total loss for Illinois’ compromised politicians, federal prosecutors added new targets and charges to their long-running probes.
First, the good news for the elected officials who allegedly operate outside the law — all is not lost.
Lou Presta won his third term as mayor of suburban Crestwood, by a landslide. Despite facing charges that he accepted a $5,000 bribe to promote a red-light-camera company, he won a third term with 65 percent of the vote.
Presta’s electoral triumph won’t end his legal problems, but he can take some comfort in the fact that voters don’t object too much when he allegedly sells out their interest for personal gain.
Presta’s good fortune, however, was the extent of the good news for those under federal investigation.
Former state Sen. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago, made an appearance in federal court following her indictment on charges of income-tax evasion and failing to file income-tax returns.
While it’s always notable when public officials run afoul of the law, the Collins indictment is especially notable because she is among the former Commonwealth Edison lobbyists the utility hired to accommodate former House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Her lawyer contends — probably correctly — that the feds charged Collins to apply pressure on her to tell what she knows about the ongoing ComEd bribery investigation.
Collins’ indictment on tax charges comes on top of previous indictments of former state Rep. Edward Acevedo and his two sons on similar tax-evasion charges in connection with their lobbying, which included ComEd.
The Chicago Tribune reported that both the Acadevo and Collins indictments are “part of the same grand-jury inquiry.” The logical question now is who’s the next Madigan-related lobbyist to be charged.
At the same time, the feds also put Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. — son of former state Rep. Luis Arroyo Sr. — under the spotlight by issuing a subpoena for the tax returns of younger Arroyo, his lobbying firm and his wife.
Arroyo Jr. has not been charged, but Arroyo Sr. faces bribery charges in connection with his alleged 2019 attempt to bribe former state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, to win cooperation for a project supported by one of Arroyo Sr.’s lobbyist clients.
Given the extent of the lobbying-related corruption, it’s clear the time has come for the General Assembly to put some broad restraints on public officials’ ability to lobby other public officials.
Both Gov. J.B. Pritzker and new House Speaker Chris Welch have spoken in broad general terms about adopting new and more restrictive ethics reforms that will end this unseemly politician-on-politician lobbying.
Whether it passes remains to be seen for disturbingly obvious reasons — too many elected officials in Springfield and Chicago make too much money using their connections and resources as lobbyists.
Everybody knows it, but few who hold the levers of power choose to do anything about it. It would be great if these latest indictments and subpoenas generate enough pressure to embarrass them into finally taking action.