Four GOP legislators demand ethics, lobbying reform commission hold meetings
SPRINGFIELD -- Four Republican lawmakers implored the co-leaders of a panel designed to present ethics and lobbying reform proposals to restart meetings that have stalled since the coronavirus outbreak.
The call, made during an online news conference Monday by the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform's GOP members, is another push by state Republicans "to root out corruption and enact serious reforms," said Rep. Patrick Windhorst, from Metropolis.
Party members resumed calls for changes to rules and statutes governing lawmaker conduct after a recent federal investigation charged utility giant ComEd with one count of bribery and implicated House Speaker Michael Madigan in a scheme that would benefit the company legislatively.
The Chicago Democrat has maintained he did nothing illegal or improper.
When the commission was created during the 2019 fall veto session, demands for reform came in the wake of three Democratic legislators' being charged by federal agents for bribery, tax fraud and ghost payrolling.
Former Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Democrat from Chicago, resigned effective Jan. 1 after pleading guilty to bribery and tax fraud. Former Rep. Luis Arroyo, also a Chicago Democrat, resigned in November after being charged with bribery.
And Sen. Tom Cullerton, from Villa Park, maintains his innocence in a federal investigation resulting in charges of 40 counts of embezzlement. His case is ongoing.
No Senate Republicans voted for the measure creating the reform commission when it passed, and House Republicans supported the idea after first expressing dissatisfaction that "it didn't go far enough," said Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville.
"This commission was created out of chaos in the Democratic Party. They did not want to even go this far," he added.
Now, Windhorst, Wehrli, Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods and Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove -- all members of that panel -- want formal meetings to begin again so a report with tangible legislative proposals can be voted upon by the General Assembly.
"We need to continue that work, and if the people in the majority party need to be dragged along, kicking and screaming, then so be it," Wehrli said. "This is about making sure that government is ethical and works for the 12.8 million residents of Illinois and the small business owners in Illinois."
He added it has been over 170 days since the group last held a meeting.
In a statement, the four Democratic lawmakers who are members of the commission said it "will meet to submit the final report to the General Assembly in the coming weeks."
Those legislators include Chicagoans Elgie Sims, a senator, and House Leader Greg Harris -- both co-chairs of the panel. Sen. Cristina Castro, from Elgin, and Rep. Kelly Burke, from Evergreen Park, also signed on to the news release.
"It's unfortunate that our Republican colleagues have chosen to politicize this issue. While our state is still hurting from the effects of the pandemic and cases continue to rise, we're all trying to help our constituents the best we can, now is not the time to work against each other," they said in the written statement. "We remain dedicated to finding meaningful ethics reform that restores the people's trust in government and look forward to continuing the discussion in the coming weeks."
Other Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate, on Aug. 13, held a virtual news conference to announce nine initiatives they said should be included in the commission's report. Those include establishing term limits for leadership positions and preventing legislators from lobbying officials at any level of government.
Windhorst on Monday said he is "happy that the Democrats have finally come around to addressing ethics reform," but pointed out several of their ideas were previously proposed in bills put forth by Republicans.
"I may have some problems with the details of the bills, but I thought that the structure of the topics was good," he said.
Regardless, Windhorst said he thinks their announcement "shows us we need to act and act now."
Wehrli listed 15 state committees, boards and commissions that have met during the COVID-19 pandemic either virtually or in person. Those include the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, the Census Commission and the Senate Transportation Committee.
Sims and Harris "would rather kick the can down the road" and "simply try to play out the clock, get past the November elections and not address this crisis in confidence," Wehrli said, than hold a meeting of the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform.
The commission also includes non-legislative branch members. Those include Secretary of State Inspector General James Burns; Richard Cenar, chief of the Public Integrity Bureau in the attorney general's office; Illinois Department of Revenue Director David Harris; Nathan Maddox, executive inspector general of the secretary of state's office; the attorney general office's executive inspector general, Diane Saltoun; Ann Spillane, the governor's general counsel; and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.