Ethics Reforms Stall in Veto Session

By Benjamin Cox on November 15, 2019 at 9:22am

Sweeping ethics reforms proposed by Republicans stalled out during the veto session yesterday. Lawmakers did approve legislation that beefs up disclosure requirements for lobbyists yesterday. However, they did not prohibit lawmakers from also having the ability to lobby local units of government on issues.

House and Senate Republicans had been trying to move along several pieces of ethics reforms for both chambers to ensure members of the State Board of Elections aren’t funding political action committees. Springfield State Representative Tim Butler explained the issue yesterday in a press conference at the Capitol Building: “I think it’s unconscionable for someone who serves on the State Board of Elections could be able to have influence or a political committee whether its a personal committee or a PAC. Our members at the State Board of Elections, who at the end of the day are the ultimate oversight of our elections here in the State of Illinois, have to be held to a higher standard. I think what we have seen in the last few weeks is that often times that is not the case.”

Butler detailed some of the language in the now stalled-out bill: “It says that a member of or the spouse of a member of the State Board of Elections shall not be able to direct or oversee funds of a political account. Additionally, if that person has had a previous account as an elected official, that account should be dissolved before they are appointed to the State Board of Elections.”

Butler and his colleagues contended that the effort to pass the bill should be easily bi-partisan, however, the SBE bill was not brought to a vote. While the ethics bill disclosing lobbying efforts did pass with wide, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, the resolution creating an ethics commission for both chambers did not. All of the Senate Republicans voted against the measure, saying the makeup of the commission is too heavily weighted in favor of Democrats. Republicans objected to Secretary of State Jesse White and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, both Democrats, having appointees to the commission. Democrats commented that both offices play a role in ethics and ethics enforcement in the state.

The ethics bill passed Thursday requires lobbyists to disclose more information about who they are lobbying for and whether or not they hold elected or appointed office but does not disclose how much they are being paid to do that lobbying. The bill also requires the Secretary of State’s office to create a searchable database that provides information about lobbying activities, expenses and economic disclosure reports. Also missing from the ethics reform bills passed yesterday were any changes to campaign finance forms turned in by potential candidates. The changes to that form are now going to be left up to recommendations from the newly-created ethics commission. House Republican leader Jim Durkin said that most of the ethics reform bills that the minority party had proposed weren’t given a hearing, including one to ban lawmakers and their families from working as lobbyists, according to a report by the State Journal Register.

Local 100th District Representative CD Davidsmeyer said in a press release today that House Joint Resolution 93 doesn’t do enough and roundly criticized the bill for not doing anything now: “The Democrats’ idea is to do nothing now, form a commission that they hope the people of Illinois will forget about, and wait until after the primary election. This is what we call ‘slow-rolling’. The goal here is to hope the people of Illinois will forget about the corruption and ethics issues in Chicago that affects all of Illinois.” The resolution calls for the ethics task force to release their first report after the primary elections held in March.

Senate Republican Dan McConchie filed Senate Bill 2300 on Tuesday to partner with Butler’s House Bill 3963 the following day about reform to the State Board of Elections. The bill is a partial answer to the appointment of former state Senator Bill Haine by Governor J.B. Pritzker to serve on the State Board of Elections. That meant that the Democrat from Alton would have to surrender control of his $285-thousand plus campaign fund. State election law prohibits board members, who are tasked with regulating other political committees, from controlling campaign committees of their own while they adjudicate other potential campaign finance violations.

Six months later and Haine still controls the money, just under a different name because it is now under the control of his spouse, removing himself as chairman and changing the name of his campaign committee. In July, Haine retook control of his old campaign fund and said he believes the law would allow him to spend that money in his son’s race for Madison County state’s attorney or in any other race he chooses. McConchie and Butler’s bills hoped to curtail the loophole from happening again by detailing how an appointee to the State Board of Elections should resign from their political action committee posts.

Republicans hope to retake action on the ethics proposals after the March primary season when lawmakers return for regular legislative session next year. Many pundits believe most of the movement won’t happen in the midst of primary election season.