Inspector General Criticizes Weak Conflict-of-Interest Law

Article excerpt

Byline: Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD The law governing conflicts of interest by Illinois legislators is "a toothless tiger" that needs to be strengthened by allowing investigations, public censure and even fines, the legislatures inspector general said Friday.

Tom Homer said the law urges legislators not to vote on bills that might help them financially but doesnt actually forbid it. And even if it were forbidden, he said, the law doesnt include any enforcement mechanism or penalties.

Homer, himself a former legislator, said he hears allegations of potential conflicts roughly once a month.

"I get complaints that people make in good faith that assume theres some sort of recourse, but its clear there is none. Its very frustrating," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Its not a satisfactory answer to say I agree with you but theres nothing we can do."

He urged the General Assembly to specifically bar legislators from voting on bills that would enrich them or their families. He said a legislative committee should review possible violations and issue public reports that might lead to official censure or fines. That should be coupled with extensive public disclosure about legislators financial activity and relationships, Homer said.

"We have something like this in Congress, but we dont have it in our state legislature," said Homer, a Naperville attorney who has served as the legislative inspector

general since 2003. "Its a toothless tiger. Weve got some rules but no way to enforce them."

Aides said House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton hadnt seen Homers proposal yet and couldnt comment in detail. The two Chicago Democrats will review the proposal, the aides said.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker is open to "common-sense" ethics legislation but that other public corruption laws might cover this issue already. …