House OKs greater lobbyist disclosure over GOP complaints that it's not enough
SPRINGFIELD -- The House approved requiring more public disclosure about lobbyists Thursday in response to a federal bribery charge against a since-disgraced representative but pushed the heavy ethics-reform lifting off to a newly created commission that will report recommendations after next spring's primary election.
The 109-5 vote came on the General Assembly's last scheduled day of work in Springfield this year and was hotly debated by Republicans who complained it doesn't address the efforts they have introduced in legislation that has languished without action for weeks or months.
The GOP was particularly irked that Democrats scuttled a plan to strengthen disclosures in statements of economic interest public officials are required to file. Majority Leader Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, said the commission would consider that proposal after questions were raised by both Republicans and Democrats.
Earlier Thursday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker dismissed any notion that officials were rushing through a bill to have something to point to.
"We are taking it very seriously. We're not going to tolerate people who engage in the kind of corruption and self-dealing that we've seen," Pritzker said. "The bill that is being considered today ... it's just a beginning. There isn't a lot of time to go after the big things that need to be addressed."
The legislation does not ban outside lobbying, which former Chicago Democratic Rep. Luis Arroyo was doing when, authorities allege, he offered a bribe to a senator to support legislation he planned to introduce. At the same time, Arroyo was registered to lobby for the same issue before the Chicago City Council, a situation that few states restrict.
The secretary of state would be required to combine existing online databases of lobbyists, campaign contributions and statements of economic interest which lawmakers and high-ranking executive branch employees are required to file, Harris said.
He said new provisions include requirements for lobbyists to disclose each government entity they lobby, other lobbyists they work for and whether they're an elected or appointed official.
The target of GOP ire was Democrats' decision to ditch a proposal to strengthen statements of economic interest, designed to show taxpayers financial interests a lawmaker or policymaker has that might raise conflicts when it comes to official action. They're widely derided as "None Sheets" because the form's broadly worded questions invariably allow respondents to answer "None" or "N/A."
"I'm a little disappointed with the fact that we are not bringing resolution to this part of ethics reform, considering the world that we are existing in, in Illinois," House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said. "When this building is burning down, we're going to punt this section."
The newly formed ethics commission will consider the matter, Harris said.
In separate votes, the House and Senate approved a resolution to create the ethics commission, 16 members appointed by the governor, House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, the attorney general's office, the secretary of state's office. The governor gets four appointments, but no more than two may be from the same political party.