The next legislative inspector general will fare little better than the current one.
Whatever their personal feelings on the issue, legislative leaders are going through the motions necessary to appoint a new legislative inspector general to replace the outgoing Carol Pope.
Readers may recall that Pope, a former state appellate court justice, resigned in July because she lacks sufficient authority to investigate legislative misconduct. She described her post as “essentially a paper tiger,” because the legislative inspector general “has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations.”
That accurate description, of course, raises the question of why the position is even needed.
In its current form, it’s not. And it’s certainly not wanted by legislators, who resent the possibility someone might look over their shoulders. But it’s a practical necessity, because the office provides political cover for legislators. Some may recall the sexual-harassment controversy that broke out in 2017 in Springfield. That’s when a variety of women came forth to complain about how they were treated while working or lobbying at the General Assembly.
Legislators were mightily embarrassed when it was revealed that the powers that be never bothered to replace retired LIG Tom Homer. After he left in 2014, the post was vacant for more than two years.
As a consequence, complaints from angry women piled up in the LIG’s office, because there was no one there to handle them.
To cover themselves, legislators appointed Julie Porter as the acting inspector general before officially installing Pope. At the same time, former Speaker Michael Madigan arranged for an outside investigation into the problem. But one thing they have steadfastly refused to do is give the LIG real authority to investigate misbehavior.
But Pope isn’t gone yet, because she promised to stay until a successor is named. Perhaps that’s why she is willing to serve on the committee searching for her replacement.
She’ll be joined by former U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon, who was named to the panel last week by Senate President Don Harmon. Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie picked veteran lawyer Jeremy Margolis as his committee appointee
As U.S. Attorney Fardon prosecuted former Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges, while Margolis, Ryan’s longtime legal adviser, worked on the other side of the case. Former appellate Justice Marcus Salone, appointed by House Speaker Chris Welch, rounds out the group appointed by the legislative leaders.
Pope’s term wasn’t scheduled to end until 2023. But she decided to step down after legislators passed a watered-down ethics bill that did not include any of her proposals to toughen current rules.
For example, the inspector general is barred from initiating an investigation until a panel divided equally between Republicans and Democrats approves. Her office has no subpoena power, leaving the inspector general only with the ability to request documents.
Completed reports are private, meaning the public is not supposed to ever learn details of wrongdoing by individual legislators.
Current law is a sham, providing only the illusion of oversight and not the real thing. The ethics law passed earlier this year is little better, a marginal improvement but weak by design.
But even that small step is in doubt, with legislators rejecting a minor amendatory veto by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that was designed to clear up a technical issue.
Republicans professed to be pleased the bill is in danger of failing. They mistakenly believe super-majority Democrats will pass a tougher ethics bill in its place.
But if Democrats really wanted tougher ethics rules, they’d already have passed them. What they want in Springfield, they get.
That’s why in the end, it makes little difference who is named to replace Pope. Her successor will face the same hurdle Pope did.