Commentary: Expanded economic interest disclosures would lead to more accountability

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Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican challenger Rep. Jeanne Ives hit the road this week. On the Democratic side, J.B. Pritzker sets a deadline for releasing his tax returns, after Sen. Daniel Biss compared him to President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Rauner signs ethics legislation that will allow the new legislative inspector general to investigate a backlog of complaints dating back nearly three years.

Jaclyn Driscoll

Women in the Illinois Senate plan to advance their voices in leadership with the creation of their own caucus. Women on both sides of the aisle say they’ve had a significant role in crafting policy, but may not always get the credit they deserve. 

Wikimedia commons

As sexual harassment allegations sweep across the nation, the Illinois legislature is now under fire for a lack of reporting procedures after a staffing vacancy allowed dozens of complaints, not necessarily sexual in nature, to go nowhere. 

Capitol in fog
Amanda Vinicky / NPR Illinois

A pair of state legislators say this election season has exposed an ethics loophole that Illinois needs to close, but there are suspicions the introduction of the measure in the midst of a heated campaign season is itself a political gesture.

It's illegal for a director of a state agency, or any public employee for that matter, to use government resources for political purposes, but Illinois has no restrictions prohibiting agency directors from being identified by their title in campaign ads.

Capitol in fog
Amanda Vinicky / NPR Illinois

A pair of state legislators say this election season has exposed an ethics loophole that Illinois needs to close, but there are suspicions the introduction of the measure in the midst of a heated campaign season is itself a political gesture.

It's illegal for a director of a state agency, or any public employee for that matter, to use government resources for political purposes, but Illinois has no restrictions prohibiting agency directors from being identified by their title in campaign ads.

Aaron Schock
Aaron Schock / Instagram

Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock resigned this week amid questions about his spending of taxpayer money. When the news broke, political reporter Chris Kaergard of the Peoria Journal Star was in the Republican's Downton Abbey-inspired office, waiting for a previously scheduled interview.

Amanda Vinicky

State employees will have to be more forthcoming about their volunteer work, legal status and property holdings under an executive order Gov. Bruce Rauner signed this afternoon. At the same time, the new governor was unwilling to specify what more he'll disclose about his finances.

After a day-long meeting Wednesday, a legislative commission will meet again Thursday morning in Chicago. They're set to begin with a call to the U.S. Attorney's office. Democrats and Republicans are at a standstill over what to do next in their probe of Gov. Pat Quinn's controversial anti-violence program.

A legislative hearing convened to probe a troubled anti-violence program run by Gov. Quinn is underway in Chicago. Federal prosecutors have asked lawmakers to hold off taking testimony, because it may obstruct their investigation. 

It all goes back to a program called the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which debuted in 2010, when Quinn was in the midst of a tight race for governor against Republican Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington. A state audit showed it was rife with mismanagement, and Republicans say that's because Quinn was trying to use it to boost his campaign.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Governor Pat Quinn's troubled anti-violence program will be in the spotlight today (7/16) when a bipartisan legislative commission meets in Chicago.  

It's not yet clear how lawmakers will proceed, given that the federal government wants them to put a hold on their investigation until mid-October, just before the November election, when Quinn will face Republican Bruce Rauner.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown says that's what Quinn's campaign wants.

Illinois Board of Higher Education

A just-released investigation by Illinois' Inspector General's office found that the former head of the state board of higher education abused public resources and wasted state funds, among other findings.

Barry Maram

A former state official has agreed to pay a record $100,000 fine to settle charges he violated a state ethics law. Barry Maram is accused of going to work for a state contractor a week after he left his job as director of Healthcare and Family Services.

Maram was HFS director from the earliest days of the Blagojevich administration through April 2010.

Maram went on to take a job with the Chicago law firm Shefsky & Forelich (now part of Taft)

Sheila Simon

  Gov. Pat Quinn is the latest Illinois official to disclose his tax returns. They show he paid about $29,000 federal taxes, $7,700 in taxes to the state. Still, a lot of information about politicians' finances can remain hidden.

There's no law requiring politicians make their tax returns public, though they often do.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon says that's a positive thing.

"I think it shows that people are demanding more disclosure," she says.

But Simon says it doesn't go far enough.

 December Ninth is a significant day in Illinois' political history: for better, and for worse.

On Dec. 9, 2003 "the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act was signed into law," Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's David Morrison says.

That was Illinois lawmakers' response to the Hired Truck scandal that landed former Gov. George Ryan in prison. It created inspectors general with subpoena power, limited lobbyists' wining and dining of officials, and set conduct standards for state workers.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In a recent MSN Money article about what corporate executives saw as President Barack Obama’s assault on businesses, T.J. Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, was quoted as saying: “Obama uses political rhetoric to demean me and my motives, but the fact is, I am completely happy with my motives and the morality of my decisions. My moral responsibility is to protect and grow the investment of shareholders.”

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the General Assembly gears up for a deadline dash to its scheduled May 31 adjournment, conditions cer-tainly seem favorable for uprooting the state’s long-standing culture of political corruption.

Restive citizens haven’t taken up pitchforks and torches yet, but all indications are the populace wants strong action to restore integrity to public service and to put an end to Illinois’ role as the laughingstock of the nation.

Bethany Jaeger
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Momentum is not enough. This state has felt momentum build and bust too many times for everything from education to health care, transportation, construction and, often, ethics. Illinois voters are used to being disappointed.

This spring, however, even skeptics are sensitive to the actions of public officials. Their attitude: Either do something noticeable to change the way government can improve our daily lives, or our attention will turn away as fast as it was recaptured by the high-level corruption and the arrest of Rod Blagojevich.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  Sunshine is the best disinfectant. The oft-quoted observation attributed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis offers sound advice for Illinois policymakers as they strive to restore some modicum of public trust in elected officials following the ouster of the disgraced Rod Blagojevich from the governorship.

Call to Action

Feb 1, 2007

Statewide officials set out their agendas he new kid on the block is a 30-year-old Chicago banker and the first Democratic state treasurer in 12 years. After taking his oath of office, Alexander "Alexi" Giannoulias said he intends to be a consumer advocate while serving as the state's fiscal watchdog.

On his first official day, Giannoulias issued an executive order banning so-called pay-to-play politics by prohibiting contributors and family members from receiving state contracts with his office. 

Pat Guinane
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Forget Mudville. There is joy in Marion.

After pairing with private investors, the southern Illinois town is poised to become the state's latest home to minor league baseball.

"We're willing to go to bat to help the development of this because we feel it will be a tremendous shot in the arm, not just for the city of Marion, but for the entire area," says Marion Mayor Bob Butler. "We've got a lot of rabid baseball fans in the area. It's amazing. I can go to the grocery store and little gray-haired old ladies will ask, 'Where do I get a season ticket?'"

Pat Guinane
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Frequent visitors to the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee have heard Chairman John Cullerton's stock joke. Legislators should not suggest increasing the penalty for a criminal offense more than one level because, as the punch line goes, they have to leave work for future General Assemblies.

As Cullerton's quip implies, law- makers like to be considered tough on crime. But when it comes to policing themselves, running out of work has never been a concern.

Bioethics: The beginning and end of life

Mar 1, 2005

Shortly after the announcement of the creation of Dolly the cloned sheep, a remarkable group came together at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. They included Scottish biologist Keith Campbell, Dolly's creator; British in vitro fertilization pioneer Robert Edwards, who created the world's first test tube baby; Mary Beth Whitehead, the surrogate mother who fought for custody of the child she contracted to bear; and Arthur Caplan, the charismatic University of Pennsylvania bioethicist.

In his first term President George W. Bush posed an ethical question that remains unanswered today: Does stem cell research destroy or improve life?

"At its core, this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science," Bush said in August 2001. 

"It lies at a difficult moral intersection, juxtaposing the need to protect life in all its phases with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages."

One cannot shop for the gift of life. In fact, buying and selling organs is a federal crime. But with vital organs such as hearts, livers and kidneys in short supply, it's becoming more common for the seriously ill to advertise their individual plight. They're not skirting the law. But by directly soliciting donors, they are circumventing the national organ allocation system and drawing attention to a supply-side problem that stirs up a host of controversial proposals.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Where is Loren Eiseley, now that we need him? I met him, in a manner of speaking, years ago, and then only by chance (how he would worry that word). He was sitting at his desk contemplating a fish fossil. 

It could, he noted, just as well have been the long-horned Alaskan bison on his wall. Both are extinct and gone, he mused, as "our massive-faced and shambling forebears of the Ice have vanished." 

This, as with so many things, would give him pause. It was then that he would tell the stories.

On so many levels, voters can be indifferent. In presidential elections, barely half show up at the polls. As for state government, a recent survey released by the National Conference of State Legislatures finds that more young adults can name the hometown of the fictional Simpsons than the political parties of their governors. And in Illinois, school boards and city councils nearly always meet before seas of empty chairs.

Editor's Notebook: Ethics seem to be on the agenda

Jun 1, 2003
Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

What is it about Illinois? The Land of Lincoln has a long- running, nationwide reputation for political corruption, and we aren’t in a position to complain. There is hard evidence — even Illinoisans can see it — to rank this state among the ethic-ally challenged. These days especially, when it wouldn’t come as any surprise if the slogan on Illinois’ license plates read, “What’s in it for me?”