Legislative inspector general wants more from ethics reform bill

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Illinois state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, center, speaks about Senate Bill 539, a bill dealing with ethics, along with Illinois state Sen. John Curran, R-Lemont, left, as they are joined by fellow Republicans and Democrats during a joint press conference at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on  May 31. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

After lawmakers passed bipartisan ethics legislation last month that included changes to the state’s legislative inspector general office, Carol Pope says the bill might actually make the job more difficult.

"There are a couple changes that make it more difficult to open an investigation," said Pope, the state’s current legislative inspector general.

The major change for the LIG under Senate Bill 539, a bipartisan ethics compromise between members in the House and Senate, would no longer require Pope to receive permission from a panel of eight lawmakers before opening an investigation into a lawmaker or legislative branch employee.

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“That’s the only tidbit I got," Pope said. "The rest is rather negative if you ask me.”

Pope argues the range of her abilities is limited under the bill to ethics violations relating to someone’s government employment. She also can no longer open an investigation unless a complaint is filed by someone else.

"I don’t think that’s what the public expects from their LIG," Pope said. "I think the public would expect the legislative inspector general could open an investigation.”

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On the issue of confining investigations to someone’s government business, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, said the goal was to make sure investigations into someone’s personal life, such as a social media post made several years ago, does not become the job of the LIG. What isn’t clear, according to Pope, is if an incident such as a case of revenge porn by a sitting lawmaker could be investigated because the case did not involve official duties.

In 2018, the previous LIG opened an investigation into former Rep. Nick Sauer, R-Barrington Hills, after an ex-girlfriend filed a complaint against Sauer alleging he created a fake Instagram account of her and posted private photos to get back at her after a breakup. 

Pope also wants to be able to open an investigation if allegations are made public in the media.

“I would think if the LIG and the rest of the public knows about some alleged misconduct because it’s public, they would think the LIG could have the power to investigate it," Pope said. 

According to the bill awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature, the LIG can open an investigation "based on a complaint." This amends the current law, which says the LIG can open an investigation with approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission and is not specific about the source needed to begin an investigation.

Gillespie said had worked with Pope on reforms for her office throughout the spring and does not feel the changes limit her abilities. 

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“That came out the day we were voting on the bill, so she did not raise that with us until after the House already voted," Gillespie said. 

While the bill had bipartisan support, the House debated how the bill affects the legislative inspector general. 

"I’ve spoken with the legislative inspector general and that’s her interpretation: that this limits her ability," Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville said.

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The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, said it was not their intention to limit the LIG’s powers.

"I would suggest that we just removed one of the checks and balances by allowing the inspector general to initiate an investigation without the approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission," Burke said. "I think this is a good balance and one that balances her duties with the public’s confidence that she’s able to look out for anything related to our public and official duties." 

Gillespie said the latest ethics bill "doesn’t shut down future discussions" and anticipates more changes will come in the future. 

Pope has more changes she wants for her office.

“The LIG doesn’t have any prosecutorial powers," Pope said.

She wants to be able to issue subpoenas to help with her investigation. Gillespie said it was late in the negotiation stage, which she said began in April on the Senate side, when Pope said she wanted the power to issue subpoenas. 

“We had several discussion with IG Pope," Gillespie said. "Initially all she asked us to do was not make it a full-time position. She didn’t think there was enough work to justify a full-time position.”

Pope was happy they took her advice and did not make the LIG a full-time job, which some initial ethics bills called for. However, she believes the public is demanding more work on ethics reform and more policies that make it easier for public officials to be held accountable for wrongdoing. 

“I do think the public is ready for a change when it comes to public corruption," she said.

via The State Journal-Register

June 8, 2021 at 03:52PM

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