insight magazine

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.

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