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Editorial: We need change
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Editorial: We need change

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It’s been six months since Illinois’ Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform was to have issued a report.

The commission, formed a year ago, held hearings early this year. But since then, we've heard nothing.

Last week, a group of good government organizations called lawmakers on their inaction. In a letter, the groups noted some delay because of COVID-19 was understandable. But other public bodies have found ways to meet and go about their business; apparently, not this one. Meanwhile, lawmakers are scheduled to go back into session next month.

The groups say they want ethics reform, but only if it's done right.

"This rushed, opaque process is wrong. With the litany of corruption scandals Illinoisans have endured, they deserve a transparent process that will produce real, meaningful results. Anything less will further increase cynicism about our legislature at a time when trust in Illinois’ government is already lowest in the nation,” the letter from the groups said. (The organizations included the Better Government Association, Change Illinois, Common Cause Illinois and Reform Illinois.)

Lawmakers have said that ethics reform is a priority.

State Rep. Greg Harris, co-chair of the commission, said he hoped to have recommendations before lawmakers come back, according to a WTTW report last week. But he also noted there is a list of concerns lawmakers must deal with, including health care and police reform. "There are a host of issues that are equally important," he said.

For what it’s worth, Illinoisans who have contacted us this election season have made it pretty clear they believe the state’s corrupt culture transcends everything. And while we know that wealthy conservatives have been bankrolling the campaign against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s "Fair Tax" plan, we believe the greatest threat to the proposed constitutional amendment is a lack of trust among voters.

In a piece in the Chicago Tribune last month, Alisa Kaplan, executive director of Reform Illinois, noted there has been talk about tightening lobbying restrictions and strengthening oversight, but she added there needs to be a real discussion about the "elephant in the room": money. She noted that Speaker Mike Madigan controls a huge amount of money, "which he doles out to selected elected officials and candidates."

Kaplan wrote that one approach would be to restrict the amount of money that can flow from one political committee to another. Currently, committees can give up to $57,800 to another committee; political party committees can give unlimited amounts in general elections.

There are plenty of ideas out there to try to deal with corruption in Illinois, but this one resonated with us.

We in the Quad-Cities have seen Madigan's influence on our legislative races for years. Democratic candidates depend upon him for cash, so their independence is limited, if not non-existent. (This isn't just a problem confined to Democrats; top-level Republicans have spread a lot of cash around GOP campaigns here, too.)

We are disappointed the ethics reform committee appointed a year ago to present recommendations to the General Assembly still has not offered up anything.

We have been told there is, at long last, a realization that some steps must be taken on this issue.

We'd like to think something meaningful is in the cards. However, judging by the performance of this committee, we don't have our hopes up.

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