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Chicago’s ethics ordinance infinitely stronger than state version, top ethics officials say

The back-handed compliment comes from top ethics officials in a city notorious for public corruption where a parade of aldermen have gone to federal prison. It’s yet another slap at the widely-ridiculed, six-month lobbying ban approved by the Illinois Legislature in response to the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal.

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
AP

Chicago’s ethics ordinance is infinitely stronger than the Illinois General Assembly’s version, the Board of Ethics said Friday, “gratified” that home-rule will prevail.

The back-handed compliment comes from top ethics officials in a city notorious for public corruption where a parade of aldermen have gone to federal prison. It’s yet another slap at the widely-ridiculed, six-month lobbying ban approved by the state legislature in response to the Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal.

“We are gratified that the General Assembly heeded our urging that Chicago’s lobbying laws not be superseded by the ethics and lobbying reform bill recently passed by the General Assembly,” Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon and Executive Director Steve Berlin wrote in an emailed statement.

“We are gratified because Chicago’s lobbying and ethics laws are stricter in critical respects than what is in the new state statute. Now, our stricter laws will be preserved.”

The letter goes on to spell out the ways in which the new state law pales by comparison to a Chicago ethics ordinance that gets strengthened by the City Council every time another alderman gets indicted:

• In Chicago, elected officials and city employees are prohibited from lobbying on behalf of any private client before any unit of government in the state, whether or not they are compensated.

The state version allows lawmakers to “lobby without compensation and to engage in ‘occasional’ lobbying with or without pay, even of their own colleagues, on behalf of their private, non-government employer,” Conlon and Berlin said.

• Elected officials outside Chicago are forbidden from lobbying city officials or employees on behalf of private clients, whether or not those officials are being compensated. The state version allows such lobbying without compensation.

• Aldermen are prohibited from lobbying any city department for one full year after leaving office, compared to the state’s six-month restriction. Department heads and top mayoral aides must abide by a citywide lobbying ban for two full years. The two-year revolving door also prohibits high-level executives from lobbying their former departments and commissions and bars elected officials and city employees who worked as lobbyists before arriving at City Hall from working on matters involving their former clients.

Earlier this week, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch brushed aside the barrage of criticism about the General Assembly response to the burgeoning scandal that ended Michael Madigan’s reign as the nation’s longest-serving state house speaker.

“We couldn’t get support for a two-year revolving door. But we got support for a six-month revolving door. … We took an important step and we should be proud of that,” Welch told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I have two kids. They’re 9 and 7. I celebrated their baby steps. Steps are steps in the right direction. … The fact that we don’t have a revolving door at all but now we will is a significant step. We can’t allow others to diminish that fact.”