Ethics bill on Pritzker’s desk is one step forward, two steps back, watchdog says

Ethics bill on Pritzker’s desk is one step forward, two steps back, watchdog says

SPRINGFIELD, IL — The Illinois Legislative Inspector General announced she’s leaving the job at the end of the year because she says lawmakers have failed to bring about substantive changes to allow better policing of legislator conduct.

Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope took the job in 2019 after her nomination was approved by the Illinois General Assembly. She replaced interim LIG Julie Porter who was appointed temporarily following a multi-year vacancy revealed in 2017. That vacancy was created when Tom Homer left the position years earlier.

Pope, Porter and Homer have all raised issues with how state lawmakers have put laws in place that hinder the LIG’s ability to investigate claims against lawmakers.

Pope told lawmakers in a letter Wednesday the office is a paper tiger.

Pope told WMAY Thursday she was able to get one reform through.

“I have to say I did get the ability to open an investigation without seeking a prior approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission in this bill, and that’s a very good thing,” Pope said.

But, she will still have to get permission to issue subpoenas. That means she has to reveal confidential details of an investigation to the panel of lawmakers and a former lawmaker, and likely the panel’s staff.

“It’s not likely that’s going to remain confidential for very long and that’s not right,” Pope said.

Senate Bill 539, which passed on the final day of the spring session, is also problematic, Pope said, by only allowing investigations “based on a complaint.” Pope interprets that as not being able to investigate lawmaker conduct that may be based on public reports in the media.

“It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back in this legislative session, which is why I felt I really couldn’t stay in this job anymore,” Pope said. “I don’t think the LIG has the ability to be effective the way the statutes are written.”

Senate Bill 539 is now on the governor’s desk. Gov. J.B. Pritzker indicated he’ll sign the bill.

“I agree that there’s more that needs to be done but this is a decent beginning,” Pritzker said Thursday.

Reform For Illinois, a nonprofit group that has testified time and again at the Illinois General Assembly about the need for stronger ethics reforms in Illinois, said Pope is a “dedicated and talented public servant who worked hard to make her office independent and effective” and her resignation should “serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and the public that the fight for real ethics reform is far from over.”

“Governor Pritzker has said he wanted more from the legislature, and he has still not signed the bill,” the groups said in a statement. “If the governor is serious about bringing accountability to Springfield, he should use his amendatory veto power to demand better for the people of Illinois.”

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