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Stand against corruption by giving the legislative inspector general true independence

There is nothing improper in trying to increase transparency in Springfield.

Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope
Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope, left, testifies before the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform in Springfield in 2020. Her predecessors, Julie Porter, center, and Tom Homer, right, also testified.
Peter Hancock/Capitol News Illinois file photo

Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope resigned last week, and the reasons for her departure should come as no surprise to Illinois lawmakers.

The complaints made by Pope and past inspectors general — tasked with independently policing and investigating ethical complaints made against state senators and representatives — are nothing new.

In her resignation letter, Pope said the role has “no real power to effect change” and described the position as a “paper tiger.”

Similar words were echoed in 2019 by the former acting legislative inspector general, Julie Porter, who called it a “powerless role” and warned that “no LIG — no matter how qualified, hardworking and persistent — can effectively serve the public.”

The Legislature cannot continue to be numb to the alarm past inspectors general have been sounding for years: Lawmakers should not police themselves when it comes to ethics. If Springfield is serious about standing against corruption, they must give the legislative inspector general true independence.

The harsh job description detailed by Pope and Porter is the result of a long-standing conflict between sitting inspectors general and the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is made up of state senators and representatives who — like their close colleagues — could be the subject of ethical complaints. To open investigations and issue subpoenas, the commission needs to give the inspector general permission to do so.

Making the job more frustrating, if the IG happens to look into complaints of wrongdoing and the commission isn’t pleased by the findings, the report will never be made public. A complaint could also be dismissed if the commission saw it as “politically embarrassing.”

Reps. Kelly Burke and Maurice West, House Democratic members of the Legislative Ethics Commission, have argued that law enforcement is the “proper and just avenue for criminal activity outside the purview of official duties.”

There is nothing improper in trying to increase transparency in Springfield.

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