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Springfield scandal heats up, puts ethics reform on front burner: ‘It’s the first step to helping reestablish the public’s trust’

Democrats had identified ethics reforms as one of their priorities months ago, but since then had said little about the issue publicly until former Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes was charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice.

Tim Mapes, then chief of staff to state House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, in 2007; Former House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in February.
Tim Mapes, then chief of staff to state House Speaker Michael Madigan, left, in 2007; Former House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in February.
Seth Perlman/AP file; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers say they’re close to introducing ethics legislation that they’re optimistic about passing before the end of session, a move that comes a day after the indictment of another associate of former Speaker Mike Madigan.

Democrats had identified ethics reforms as one of their priorities months ago, but since then had said little about the issue publicly until former Madigan chief of staff Tim Mapes was charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice.

That changed on Thursday — just days before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.

“I think it’s critically important because it’s the first step to helping reestablish the public’s trust in the General Assembly and the legislative process,” state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, said. “The scandals we’ve had over the last couple of years have really raised a lot of questions for people, and I think it’s important that they see that we’re serious about this.”

Gillespie said lawmakers are working on an amendment to a Senate ethics bill she’s sponsoring to incorporate ideas from Republicans, testimony from a legislative working group on ethics and items missed in the initial drafting of the legislation.

State Sen. Ann Gillespie speaks at a news conference last summer.
State Sen. Ann Gillespie speaks at a news conference last summer.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

That amendment could be introduced over the weekend, Gillespie said.

Ideas likely to appear in the amendment include tightening restrictions on consultants whose activities Gillespie said are “pretty darn close to lobbying” and giving the legislative inspector general the power to initiate investigations without the permission of the Legislative Ethics Commission. That commission is made up largely of legislators, appointed by House and Senate leadership, prompting questions about its independence.

Other ideas, from members of the House, are also being worked out, though Gillespie said she wanted to wait until the final details are hammered out before sharing them.

State Sen. John Curran, R-Woodridge, said after about a month of Democratic silence on the topic, bipartisan discussions have begun about “getting this done here in the closing days, and we will be very soon sitting down to get a final bipartisan package agreed to ... so we can move forward.”

Curran supports giving the legislative inspector general more independence. He said the current arrangement “doesn’t instill the trust of the public that the legislative inspector general is able to act in a meaningful manner in policing the actions of the General Assembly and employees within the General Assembly.”

Another idea that he believes will make it into an ethics package is the expansion of the statewide grand jury that the Illinois attorney general’s office uses. That was among the recommendations made to legislators by Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s chief of public integrity and the office’s inspector general.

That grand jury is currently used to investigate gangs, drugs and child pornography, but Curran, who spent nearly two decades in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, said he’d like to see it expanded to include public corruption.

The Woodridge senator also supports a stronger revolving-door provision to limit former legislators becoming lobbyists and allowing local prosecutors to use wiretaps in public corruption cases, an issue he said will require more discussion.

Not having the ability to use wiretaps at the state and local level is “a real hindrance in investigating public corruption crimes,” Curran said.

“Right now we have a system that relies so heavily on federal authorities to police, and investigate, acts of public corruption,” Curran said. “That is not a good system.”

On Wednesday, Mapes, Madigan’s chief of staff from 1991 to 2018, was charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice amid the ongoing federal investigation of alleged bribery by ComEd.

Former ComEd official John Hooker, clockwise from top left, Springfield insider Michael McClain, forrmer City Club president Jay Doherty and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore.
Former ComEd official John Hooker, clockwise from top left, Springfield insider Michael McClain, forrmer City Club president Jay Doherty and ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore.
Sun-Times files

That indictment against Mapes — who had also served as executive director of the Illinois Democratic Party of Illinois — follows charges filed last year against longtime Madigan confidant Michael McClain, ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-top ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and Jay Doherty, the former president of the City Club .

All were associates of Madigan, who has not been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing.

Asked about the indictment of Mapes and the others, Gillespie said they “brought to the forefront where a lot of the weaknesses were.”

The bill won’t “have everything everybody wants or thinks should be there,” but Gillespie said she thinks the bill is “a solid move forward.”