Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he wants to clean up the corruption in state government.
That’s easy for him to say, of course, because Pritzker doesn’t need — or want — the money that comes with selling out the public interest. Two of his three predecessors felt differently.
The multi-billionaire already has more money than he could spend in 1,000 lifetimes. On top of that good fortune, he never had to break a sweat to get it, either.
Pritzker just picked his parents well, and everything flowed from there.
That’s not the case with many of the state’s aspiring politicians. Not only do they have to work for their payoffs and campaign contributions from powerful interests, they must also compete with their fellow politicians for the opportunity to pick up a little extra swag.
It can wear on them, as convicted former state Sen. Martin Sandoval — bribery and federal tax evasion — made clear in an FBI-recorded conversation between him and a crooked businessman whom Sandoval was hitting up for cash.
“It galls me to know, but because we’ve established such a great relationship, um, cause you know I’ll go (all out) for anything you ask me. ... It’s hard for me to swallow how (people) make so much money off of you. Right? And I gotta do the work,” Sandoval said.
Not only do legislators like Sandoval have to work for their illegal payoffs, they also run the risk of getting caught.
For example, in 2015 Sandoval helped, among other things, to kill anti-red-light-camera legislation in return for payoffs federal authorities estimated to be in excess of $250,000.
Flash forward to 2020, and Sandoval faces an undetermined prison term and must pay back all the money he received in bribes for his hard work. The state is even going to take away what would have been a generous legislative pension he earned for his service to the people of Illinois.
If those are not tough enough conditions for the state’s native criminal class to endure, Pritzker wants to make it even harder for legislators to feather their own nests.
He oversaw the creation of a task force — the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform — to solicit testimony on corruption issues and what to do to about them. The body faces a March 31 deadline to make recommendations.
(Deadlines don’t necessarily count for much. Pritzker’s property-tax reform commission had a Dec. 31 deadline it continues to ignore.)
On the first day of testimony Thursday, former Illinois Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter complained that while she was inspector general, she had to answer to a bipartisan board of Republican and Democratic legislators (four each) who had the authority to — and, in fact, did — block the release of a report detailing misconduct.
“Although I completed dozens of investigations without incident, in some significant matters, when I did find wrongdoing and sought to publish it, state legislators ... blocked me,” said Porter in reference to the oxymoronic Legislative Ethics Commission.
Required by law to keep the matter confidential, Porter described the report concerning a “sitting legislator” as one revealing “serious wrongdoing, warranting a founded summary report and even a formal complaint brought by the attorney general.”
Porter described the situation as akin to “the fox guarding the henhouse,” a reference that surely brought a knowing smile or chuckle from the foxes present in the room.
Well, of course it is. Call it the illusion of oversight.
The commission’s rules, obviously, were written by the foxes — legislators — at the expense of the hens — the taxpayers.
Would a serious oversight body require that investigations revealing legislative misconduct be kept permanently secret from public review?
Sensing an opportunity to score some partisan points, Republicans reinforced the image of the ethics commission as a sham by pointing out that one of its members is state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan.
The name may not ring a bell. But he allegedly worked as an FBI informant after being implicated in federal tax-evasion allegations. Although Link has publicly denied it, he’s been identified as the member of the Senate who was offered a bribe by former state Rep. Luis Arroyo.
News reports indicate that Link, who is laboring under a corruption cloud, will soon resign his Senate seat. But House GOP Leader Jim Durkin urged new Democratic Senate President Don Harmon to remove Link from the legislative ethics commission.
From a public-relations perspective, it’s good advice.
But it’s not so good if the legislative ethics commission is going to be able to continue to withhold information from the public about legislators who run afoul of ethical concerns.
High-minded people — Pritzker and members of the good-government crowd — are getting all excited because of the multiple corruption investigations underway into state and local government officials.
They contend it’s time to rein in some of those loosey-goosey rules that allow public officials to run amok at taxpayer expense.
From the outside looking in, that’s easy to say. But consider the perspective of our corrupt public officials.
Walk a mile in their shoes, which are sunk deep into the fetid and festering sewer of government in Illinois, and it’s a different perspective altogether.