Attorney general candidates debate: Can more be done to fight corruption?

Posted10/14/2014 5:30 AM
  • Lisa Madigan and Paul Schimpf are running for Illinois attorney general.

    Lisa Madigan and Paul Schimpf are running for Illinois attorney general.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan prides herself on her consumer protection record, collecting millions of dollars for the state by going after those who defrauded Illinois residents, including utilities, large banks, scam artists and more.

However, Madigan's challenger in the Nov. 4 election, Republican Paul Schimpf, said during a Daily Herald editorial board interview that the attorney general's office needs to be more than just a consumer watchdog. He said fighting government corruption in Illinois should be a bigger part of what the attorney general's office does.

"The office can, and should, do both," said Schimpf, a retired Marine and attorney who helped prosecute Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. "Government corruption is one of the biggest threats that Illinois consumers face. We've outsourced our anti-corruption efforts to the U.S. attorney's office, and I don't think that's working out well for our state."

In a separate editorial board interview, Madigan countered that her office doesn't have the jurisdiction to go after corruption in most cases, and usually gets involved only when there's a conflict of interest, such as the recent criminal indictment of the Rock Island County sheriff. Corruption tends to be fought on a county level, by state's attorney's offices, in part because the attorney general's office doesn't have tools like a grand jury, she said.

"If you really want to pursue a high-level criminal investigation, your preference is going to be the U.S. attorney's office, or at least a state's attorney's office where they do the criminal work," she said.

It's one of several areas where the two candidates disagree. Schimpf has repeatedly questioned whether Madigan's office had a hand in any mismanagement of funds in Gov. Pat Quinn's troubled anti-violence program, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. Madigan staunchly defended her office, saying it had "no role in the disbursement of money."

Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, is running for her fourth term as attorney general. She's the daughter of House Speaker Mike Madigan, widely believed to be the most powerful politician in Illinois. However, Lisa Madigan says she works independently of her father, and in different branches of government.

"We don't bump into each other," she said.

Schimpf, from the small town of Waterloo, near St. Louis, says he is more of a centrist than a Republican, and if he had to rank himself on a scale -- liberal filmmaker Michael Moore being a 1 and conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh being a 10 -- he'd be a 6½ or 7.

"I don't have an ego," said Schimpf. "I'm just doing this because I think the status quo isn't acceptable."

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