Pandemic derails Illinois’ lobbying reform commission ahead of key deadline

(The Center Square) – Unable to meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reforms missed its deadline to provide recommendations to clean up some questionable practices in Springfield, but a member of the commission said it will get back to business.

The commission, made up of state lawmakers and members appointed by the offices of the Illinois governor, secretary of state and attorney general, was created in the fall amid a wide-ranging federal corruption probe that included allegations of bribery involving lawmakers, lobbyists and business leaders.

The commission held meetings throughout the first quarter of the year, but hasn’t met since March 5. It missed a March 31 deadline to produce a report with recommendations.

State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, was appointed to the commission last year. He said the missed deadline was unfortunate. However, he said it was important for the commission to get the job done right. He said for those concerned Illinois’ ethics problems could lead to wasted resources during the pandemic, the Government Accountability and Transparency Act should cover that.

“There is concern that the governor could choose to, through the executive order, roll back those protections,” McConchie said. “It is my sincere hope that he does not do that because at this point in time especially with the kind of crunch that we are feeling not only in our economy but in our state budget that we need to make sure that everything is above board right now.”

McConchie said the federal investigations were still ongoing, but he said he wants lawmakers to retrain their focus on ethics and lobbying reforms when the pandemic subsides.

Madeleine Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, said lawmakers held hearings about new regulations on who can lobby, economic disclosures and other issues regarding lobbying ethics, including making the legislative inspector general truly independent.

“That just defies common sense that you would have to get the approval of lawmakers to investigate lawmakers,” Doubek said. “That’s got to stop.”

“None of these things are really new, that’s certainly true, but this commission wanted to be thorough,” she said. “Certainly it could have been done quicker.”

She said the COVID-19 pandemic stunted the commission’s work.

“Which is unfortunate,” Doubek said. “So we need to get as many of us through this safely as we can and then we need to shine a light back onto this so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside entirely.”

It’s unclear when lawmakers will return to Springfield or be able to hold hearings. On Tuesday, the governor extended his stay-at-home order through April 30.

Another commission state lawmakers created last year, the Illinois Property Tax Relief Task Force, was supposed to produce a report with recommendations by the end of 2019, but that report has never materialized.

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