New legislative inspector to look into 10 ethics cases

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Julie Porter | Facebook photo

A newly appointed interim legislative inspector general will further investigate 10 of 27 ethics complaints that had piled up since 2015, but can’t investigate two of them because they involve former members of the Illinois General Assembly, according to a memo sent to lawmakers on Thursday.

While legislators have already approved legislation to expand the statute of limitations on cases, the exclusion of some may spur them to make additional changes, according to one member of the Legislative Ethics Commission.

A memo to lawmakers from members of the Legislative Ethics Commission on Thursday offered a glimpse into what Julie Porter — appointed interim legislative inspector general on Nov. 4 — has reviewed so far. Between December 2014 and Nov. 3, 2017, her office had received 27 written requests for investigation. That gap is because there hasn’t been a legislative inspector general for more than two years.

“Based upon her review of these written requests, LIG Porter has determined that 10 requests involve matters that appear to be within the jurisdiction of the Office and warrant further consideration,” the memo says.

Those have received only a preliminary review, the memo says. And there is still a chance those won’t be investigated.

Of the 17, 13 did not fit the jurisdiction of the legislative inspector general’s office, and “two involve matters where the subject of the complaint is no longer a member of the General Assembly.” Another complaint was “too vague,” and another “would be a matter for investigation,” but the complainant didn’t want to proceed and told the office the case has been dealt with earlier this year.

The memo also notes that Porter has tried to reach out to all non-anonymous complainants and also to those who filed cases she’s not planning to investigate. And the office has also received new complaints, which will also be considered, the memo says.

State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, a member of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said she applauded Porter’s work so far but noted there may be more changes ahead.

“I think you’re going to see a flurry of introduced legislation directed at making changes at both the function of the ethics commission as well as the inspector general,” McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, said.

That would include “taking the power for the investigation away from the General Assembly and making it more independent,” she said.

“The whole point about you can’t investigate because the person is no longer a member of the General Assembly is yet another example of the statutory changes that are going to need to take place as it relates to this order,” McConnaughay said.

MORE: Rauner both signs and critiques sexual harassment legislation

Porter was appointed interim legislative inspector general in the wake of allegations by a victim rights advocate against state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago. The accusations of unwanted advances led to Silverstein’s ouster from his leadership post as majority caucus chair.

Denise Rotheimer was the first to publicly name a legislator as allegations of sexual harassment have run rampant amid a Facebook campaign and open letter detailing years of alleged sexual harassment in Springfield.

Gov. Bruce Rauner in November signed both a measure that will require all lawmakers, lobbyists and state employees to undergo sexual harassment training every year beginning next year, as well as a bill that extends the statute of limitations on cases pending before the Legislative Ethics Commission. The signings came about a week after legislators quickly passed both measures amid pressure over the lack of action when it comes to potential ethical complaints involving lawmakers.

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