Capitol Report | Spring 2020
Spring Cleaning in the Statehouse
With the spring legislative session well underway, legislators are attempting to clean up Illinois’ politics.
Marty Green, Esq.
Senior VP and Legislative Counsel, Illinois CPA Society
In the 30 years I have been involved with state government, including 12 years as executive
assistant attorney general, I have never seen such a broad and bright light cast upon Illinois state
government. It seems Illinois’ unsavory political reputation is due for a thorough spring cleaning.
The scrutiny within the statehouse is being driven by multiple structural and cultural changes
underway within the Illinois General Assembly. Aside from turnover shifting the broader
composition of the General Assembly, particularly in the Senate chamber, a new leadership
roster of senators in the upper chamber is set to make its mark. External forces are also
influencing cultural changes in Illinois politics, courtesy of federal law enforcement’s broad
probe of state and local officials, which is casting an even bigger spotlight on legislative
processes, political campaigns, and lobbyist activities. These developments have led Illinois
legislators to closely scrutinize internal processes and accompanying state laws, paving the
way for vast and welcomed change.
Earlier this year, former Senate President John Cullerton announced his retirement, vacating
both the position and his seat as representative of the sixth Senate district. The Senate
Democratic majority selected Sen. Don Harmon (D-39, Oak Park) as its new chamber leader.
The Senate president is an influential position, serving not only as the leader and presiding
officer of the Senate chamber but also as one of four legislative leaders representing their
respective chambers and caucuses on legislative issues and in negotiations with the governor,
the Senate Republican leader, and the speaker of the House.
Harmon has held various leadership positions during his 17 years in the Senate. He is also a
licensed attorney who resigned his partnership with a Chicago law firm upon being elected
Senate president. As the new Senate president, Harmon has already assembled a cadre of
confidants to serve on his leadership team while keeping the existing Senate majority leader
and assistant majority leader intact. And while there was a rotation of committee chairs with
the appointment of assistant majority leaders, CPAs should take note that Sen. Christina Castro
(D-22, Elgin) was appointed as chair of the Senate Revenue Committee, filling the vacancy left
by Toi Hutchinson, who resigned to become the cannabis czar.
Widespread high-profile raids and search warrants executed by
federal authorities have ensnarled several aldermen, lobbyists, and
legislators, casting a bright light on Illinois’ ethical and legal
shortcomings and driving the U.S. attorney for the Northern District
of Illinois to announce charges against several notable Illinois
politicians who are now awaiting trial. These enforcement efforts
have further illuminated issues with elected officials serving as
registered lobbyists, lobbying other governmental entities and
officials on behalf of commercial enterprises and their own business
interests. This practice previously resulted in a now former state
representative being charged with attempting to bribe another
legislator in exchange for a legislative vote. In another case, a former
state senator was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for
exercising legislative muscle in favor of red-light cameras, gambling,
road paving, and ComEd.
What does this all mean? New leadership and changing General
Assembly demographics, coupled with the cultural impact of past
and pending high-profile charges, have resulted in the Illinois House
and Senate closely scrutinizing its internal processes.
Last fall, the General Assembly created the bipartisan Senate and
House Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform and tasked
it with drafting a final report on Illinois ethics laws recommendations.
The current legislative inspector general (LIG) and two previous
legislative inspectors general testified before the commission on
changing the LIG law to provide more authority to the LIG and for
more transparency in the LIG process.
This spring, more than 94 bills were filed in relation to elected officials
and ethics, financial disclosures by elected officials and registered
lobbyists, and revolving door prohibitions.
The outcome so far? What was once legally and politically
acceptable in days long ago is no longer. How many people will be
enmeshed in the ongoing federal investigation is yet to be seen.
Clearly, the U.S. attorney is redefining the legal norms of Illinois
politics by the exposure of the investigation and the charges
brought thus far. U.S. attorneys are not typically reckless in public
corruption cases, nor are they careless in filing specific charges.
Meaning, when charges are filed, there’s typically a conviction on
one or more counts. The criminal process will undoubtedly expose
the practices of the past and will continue to change political norms
and legislative practices of the present. We will also see how far
the General Assembly is willing to go in policing its own with the
passage of meaningful ethics legislation.
While fresh faces in the General Assembly could potentially mean
that issues previously debated and voted upon may be resurrected,
they also bring fresh perspectives to lingering problems. Former
Senate President Cullerton was always accessible and responsive
to the CPA profession, and we are grateful for that, but Senate
President Harmon brings a new perspective and a new brand of
leadership to the negotiating table. This structural change, coupled
with the cultural changes that have yet to fully play out, is already
changing Illinois’ political dynamic and ethical landscape. As you’ve
probably gathered, my takeaway is that change is good and we
should welcome more if it means Illinois’ reputation for dirty politics
finally gets cleaned up.
Author’s Note: This column includes my personal observations of the evolution
of the legislative environment and are not necessarily the views of the
Illinois CPA Society.