Reform for Illinois Statement on Republican Ethics Proposal

Last week, Republicans in the Illinois Senate introduced an amendment to SB1350 containing a package of ethics reforms that would make some significant changes to the status quo in Springfield. 

The new bill is not perfect, but it improves on the leading Democratic proposal, SB4, in several key areas. 

SB1350 would establish a one-year revolving door prohibition for legislators, rather than the six-month ban proposed in SB4. As RFI Executive Director Alisa Kaplan told the House Ethics and Elections Committee in April, the vast majority of states prohibit legislators from taking jobs lobbying their former colleagues for at least one year after leaving office. There are two major reasons for these bans: 1) to prevent lawmakers in office from putting the interests of potential lobbying employers above those of their constituents, and 2) to reduce the advantages deep-pocketed special interests can gain over the public by paying top dollar for former legislators with special access to lawmakers. We have noted that a six-month ban would put Illinois at the “bottom of the barrel” in comparison to other states. Florida has the longest ban, at six years. 

While Reform for Illinois supports a two-year ban (considered best practice and in effect in about a dozen states), a one-year prohibition would at least address some of the problems raised by legislators-turned-lobbyists and bring Illinois in line with many other states. Furthermore, SB1350 avoids a loophole created in the wording of SB4 that would allow lawmakers to skirt the six-month prohibition by resigning one day before the end of their terms.

SB1350 aims to stop legislators from lobbying other units of government without upending local lobbying regulations. Currently, the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act bars state lawmakers from engaging in lobbying activities while in office, but only covers lobbying the General Assembly. SB1350 would expand the definition of lobbying, effectively barring General Assembly members from lobbying 1) other branches of state government or 2) other localities if those localities require lobbyists to register. 

While the leading Democratic proposal, SB4, also intends to stop “cross-lobbying,” it only bans lawmakers from lobbying local governments if the lobbying entity is also registered to lobby the General Assembly. This creates a potential loophole not present in the Republican bill. 

Furthermore, SB4 troublingly preempts lobbying regulations created by local governments, denying even home rule municipalities the power to regulate lobbying activities more strictly than the state if they choose to do so.

SB1350 would strengthen ethics oversight of lawmakers by removing legislators from the Legislative Ethics Commission and taking steps towards empowering the Legislative Inspector General. For years, the independence and authority of the Legislative Inspector General’s office (LIG) has been undermined by requirements that the office must seek approval for crucial actions from the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC), a body made up entirely of current and former members of the General Assembly. This compromises investigations and gives lawmakers the power to hamstring or suppress investigations of wrongdoing into their colleagues. 

SB1350 would significantly remake the LEC by requiring the commission to be made up of members of the public rather than current members of the General Assembly or those who have served in the past 10 years. This would go a long way towards changing the “fox guarding the henhouse” dynamic that now characterizes oversight in the ILGA, and would bring Illinois in line with states such as California, New Mexico, and Connecticut, all of which prohibit legislators from serving on ethics commissions. 

Additionally, the bill would empower the LIG to open investigations or issue subpoenas without asking permission from the LEC. Reform for Illinois has been advocating for these changes for several years, and we are pleased to see them reflected in this legislation.

SB1350 has some points of concern that deserve further attention and input from stakeholders. It would impose new limits on the jurisdiction of the Legislative Inspector General that could prevent her from pursuing some cases affecting the public interest. It would also maintain the requirement that the LIG seek approval from the LEC before publishing founded reports, a worrying rule given that the former LIG, Julie Porter, testified that the LEC suppressed at least one report of “serious wrongdoing by a sitting legislator.” This problem would be less concerning if, as SB1350 proposes, the LEC were comprised of non-legislators, but it would still be an unnecessary limitation on the LIG’s independence. 

In addition, there is some ambiguity in the bill about whether its revolving door provision would cover lobbying consultants or so-called “shadow lobbyists,” presenting a potential loophole that could undermine some of the benefits of the ban. 

SB1350 also includes provisions broadening the ability of state authorities to investigate and prosecute corruption. While these merit further public discussion, our statement today focuses on lobbying reform and internal ethics oversight, the topics that have dominated ethics discussions and public debate for the past two years.   

In sum, SB1350 has key provisions we hope will be incorporated into any ethics package passed this session, and that are sorely needed to begin restoring trust in Illinois government. 

We call on members of the General Assembly to work together in a bipartisan manner to pass the strongest ethics bill possible. The people of Illinois deserve nothing less.


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