Gov. JB Pritzker Sends Ethics Bill Back To Legislators

Gov. JB Pritzker
In this June 25, 2019, file photo, Gov. J. B. Pritzker signs a bill in Chicago. On Friday, he issued an amendatory veto to an ethics package, sending the bill back to the legislature. Amr Alfiky / Associated Press, File Photo
Gov. JB Pritzker
In this June 25, 2019, file photo, Gov. J. B. Pritzker signs a bill in Chicago. On Friday, he issued an amendatory veto to an ethics package, sending the bill back to the legislature. Amr Alfiky / Associated Press, File Photo

Gov. JB Pritzker Sends Ethics Bill Back To Legislators

In light of a sprawling, years-long federal corruption probe into lobbying and dealmaking in Springfield, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday sent a narrow ethics package that addresses just a handful of issues that have come up in recent indictments back to the legislature.

The bill puts minimum limits on how long a member of the legislature has to wait until becoming a lobbyist and also bans the practice of letting lawmakers and other state elected officials from lobbying local units of government.

That comes in response to charges against former State Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, who has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he offered a bribe to a state senator on behalf of his lobbying client.

Lawmakers and state elected officials would also be forbidden from becoming lobbyists for six months after they leave office, though that part of the bill doesn’t go into effect until 2023.

But Pritzker issued an amendatory veto of the bill over what he referred to as a “technical drafting error” that would inhibit executive inspectors general from choosing to open their own investigations.

Pritzker said he approves of the rest of the bill if the legislature would adopt his tweak.

Now, lawmakers must decide whether to accept Pritzker’s line item veto or to override him. The legislature is expected to meet on Tuesday to consider drawing new legislative district boundaries, but it’s unclear how or if they will address Pritzker’s veto. Former House Speaker Michael Madigan rarely approved of such amendatory vetoes.

This maneuver comes after Pritzker for months had indicated he wanted to see more stringent ethics components. Several elements of the ongoing federal corruption investigation related to Commonwealth Edison’s years-long lobbying practice were not in the bill, and instead have been included as part of an energy omnibus bill. But negotiations surrounding that energy proposal have stalled for months.

“This is something that’s very important to me. Do I think the legislature’s done enough? No. But I think if you asked every member of the legislature, they would agree that more needs to be done,” Pritzker told WBEZ last month when asked about the bill.

But state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, a sponsor of the legislation, defended the bill while writing that “our work continues.”

“This bill puts real teeth into our current lobbying practices while addressing consultant loopholes and enhancing transparency,” he said in a statement.

The bill, however, fell far short from what the watchdog of the state legislature wanted to see.

Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope abruptly announced her resignation last month, saying the position is “essentially a paper tiger.”

The ethics package, Pope wrote, would not give the office the authority it needs to effectively conduct its own investigations of alleged wrongdoing by lawmakers or their staff.

Pope, who was appointed to the position in 2019, had specifically requested that lawmakers grant her the power to issue subpoenas without requiring her to first get the approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission, a bipartisan panel of eight lawmakers. She also complained that if she reads about potential wrongdoing about a legislator in the news, she couldn’t open her own investigation unless she first received a formal complaint.

Meanwhile, some proposals that have come up as part of utility oversight, like barring utilities from charging customers for its charitable contributions and cutting off watchdog Citizens Utility Board from utility funding, were raised — and dropped — as part of the energy omnibus bill negotiations that have failed to reach a compromise.

The bill does, however, require lobbyists to disclose the consultants they hire who do work for their clients. The issue, which stems from ComEd’s lobbying scandal, arose after the utility admitted it gave contracts to politically-connected consultants in order to curry favor with then-Speaker Michael Madigan. Those consultants were able to fly under the radar because state law didn’t require disclosure of their work for ComEd.

ComEd’s former chief executive, Anne Pramaggiore, along with three of its top lobbyists — Michael McClain, John Hooker and Jay Doherty — have all pleaded not guilty for their role in the alleged scheme. A federal prosecutor recently told the judge that the investigation is ongoing and would not show her cards as to whether U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office is planning to bring additional or different charges against the four named defendants.

Madigan has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.

Tony Arnold covers state politics for WBEZ. Follow @tonyjarnold.