State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, could use a refresher course at Good Government School.

The first thing they would tell Martwick, a property tax lawyer, is this: Don’t do business on the side  with an elected official who can benefit your clients by lowering their property assessments. But if you do, be absolutely scrupulous about filling out every disclosure form. Or you’ll look like you’re trying to hide something — and maybe you are.

Oops.

As the Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos reported this week, Rep. Martwick omitted key information from an ethics form he is required to fill out as an Illinois legislator. He did not report that he was paid $170,000 over two years for work as a consultant to fellow Democrats, including  Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios, who also is the county assessor.

EDITORIAL

Martwick works for his father’s law firm, Finkel Martwick & Colson, which specializes in getting property tax reductions for clients and has been a major campaign contributor to Berrios. As assessor, Berrios makes decisions about property assessments for Finkel Martwick & Colson’s clients. Berrios also is a client of First Tuesday, Martwick’s political consulting firm.

Martwick says the information was missing because he was stumped by the ethics form.

“I’m a lawyer, but, looking at those questions, I don’t know what they’re asking,” Martwick said. “ … I don’t know how to interpret those questions.”

The ethics form instructs lawmakers to “list the name and instrument of ownership in any entity doing business in the state of Illinois in which [their] ownership interest” is worth more than $5,000 or from which they made more than $1,200 during the past year.”

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios | Rich Hein/ Sun-Times

Yes, that kind of legalese is hard to decipher. But here’s what they would have told him in Good Government Class 101: “Don’t guess. Get help from someone who understands the forms.”

Martwick shouldn’t have had any trouble finding someone to ask. His dad is the longtime Democratic committeeman of Norwood Park Township as well as the county party secretary.

Martwick also admitted to a mistake in updating First Tuesday’s state corporate records and failing to get a city business license, although he said he will rectify that.

As a legislator, Martwick writes rules for the rest of us. He should follow them, too.

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