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Lawmakers Consider New Measures For Ethics Violations In Government

Witnesses testify about ethics laws in Illinois and elsewhere at a meeting of the Illinois Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Lawmakers heard testimony from Nicholas Birdsong of the National Conference of State LegislaturesFrom. Also at the table were, from left: David Weisbaum, Brad Cole, Stephen Roth, and Charles Northrup.

A day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for a massive culture change over corruption in Illinois, state lawmakers were considering how to make that happen — especially when it comes to local units of government.

Although there seems to be broad agreement that the General Assembly needs to do something amid ongoing corruption scandals — lawmakers are still trying to figure out what that something should be.

The Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, a bipartisan task force, met Thursday to consider how Illinois polices conflicts of interest at all levels of government.

State Sen. Cristina Castro, a Democrat from Elgin, asked the Illinois Municipal League’s Brad Cole about the way smaller towns handle ethics.

“Is there one standard where people report ethical violations, or is it just a hodgepodge of everything from the municipal and the county level?” Castro asked.

“It’s a hodgepodge,” Cole responded.

Castro said one way to ensure conflicts of interest can be identified more easily is by having local-government lobbyists register with the state. This is already a requirement for people who lobby state government.

“In an issue of transparency, no one seems to be noticing who’s lobbying the local level, and given everything that’s been, you know, reported in the media, wouldn’t one location for a lobbyist disclosure assist with that and how do municipalities and local governments feel about it?” Castro asked.

Cole said it’s an idea worth pursuing. But he says Illinois’ many small towns and villages don’t have the resources to do it on their own.

Cole also said there’s no statewide standard for reporting ethical violations in local government. He says that’s led to a lack of trust in the system.

Mike Smith is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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