Before Illinois spends $45 billion on highways and bridges, Sandoval should hit the road

Sen. Martin Sandoval’s political war chest is bursting with donations from firms that stand to benefit from the state’s construction plan — and now there are those FBI raids.

SHARE Before Illinois spends $45 billion on highways and bridges, Sandoval should hit the road
State Sen. Martin Sandoval

State Sen. Martin Sandoval

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

For a couple of decades, Illinois has allowed roads and bridges to crumble, which doesn’t make much sense for a state whose economy is based on being a transportation hub for the nation.

But now that our state is poised to spend $45 billion on new capital projects, including those roads and bridges, we’ve got a related problem: A key figure in deciding how that money will be spent is state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, whose political war chest is bursting with donations from construction firms and others who stand to benefit on the capital plan.

That kind of blatant conflict of interest is as old as Illinois. But in this case there is an easy fix.

Sandoval should be stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Transportation Committee, and he no longer should be the Senate majority whip.

As compromised as Sandoval already was, it’s also troubling that he’s in the crosshairs of the FBI. Agents on Tuesday raided his home and offices in Cicero and Springfield, carrying out boxes of documents, and also raided government offices in three suburbs in his Senate district.

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In other circumstances, we might agree with Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who says that nothing should be done about Sandoval right now. Despite the FBI raids, no charges have been filed. The feds could be looking for something that comes to nothing.

But that argument ignores what we know for sure: Sandoval’s been raking it in from the construction crowd.

Over the last four quarterly reporting periods, Crain’s Chicago Business reported, he has received $432,000 in donations, and much of that came from businesses waiting in line for hefty contracts to build things.

The biggest identified sector of donations to Sandoval is construction, according to VoteSmart.org. The Illinois State Board of Elections lists political campaign gifts from a range of transportation-related entities, such as engineering, planning, building materials and construction companies, as well as unions that work on transportation projects.

Those in need go out of their way to please. What were we to think in 2016 when Pace, the suburban bus service — which relies on state transportation funding — hired Sandoval’s son?

“These are the types of questions the campaign finance system raises constantly,” said Alicia Kaplan, policy director of Reform for Illinois. “It is a broader issue of public trust in the system.“

Many states ban corporate contributions to politicians to prevent such conflicts of interest.

Sandoval raises much more campaign money than he needs to defend his safe legislative seat. That puts him in a position to expand his influence — and conceivably that of his donors — by passing along money to other lawmakers.

The better part of caution says Sandoval should be nowhere near the center of decision-making when the Illinois Legislature doles out that $45 billion.

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