Ethics law leaves more questions than answers, some municipal governments say

A view of the Illinois capitol in Springfield.
A view of the Illinois capitol in Springfield.(WGEM)
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 3:36 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois lawmakers passed legislation last October to address concerns with corruption and conflicts of interest. They intended to bring more light to government; instead, some argue the law has made things cloudier.

The House Ethics and Elections Committee heard complaints from various groups about the confusion caused by the reforms. Namely, the changes it made to the economic disclosure forms that all public officials have to fill out their economic interests and investments.

The language of the law lays out what should and shouldn’t be reported on the form. It reads that those filling it out should list out all single assets worth over $10,000. That includes items that are owned jointly with a spouse or child. the minimum amount increased on the reform from an asset worth $5,000 to double that.

The new forms were sent out in January for public officials to fill out.

During that time since the Illinois Municipal League said it has received an influx of local and county leaders expressing confusion on what they needed to disclose. Does a personal retirement fund need to be reported? Or a spouse’s investments?

IML Executive Director Brad Cole believed the reforms were intended for larger targets with potentially corrupt histories, such as the recent indictment of former Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. However, he thinks the reform had an unintended effect on municipal-level officials.

“In many ways, this is perceived by a lot of people as swatting flies with a hammer,” Cole said. “It’s intended to solve problems that we see on the news of people that have been convicted or accused of wrongdoing, and the thousands if not tens of thousands of additional people that are now kind of the unintended consequences are having to comply with this.”

Cole went on to say those he works with are seeking more guidance on what should and shouldn’t be a part of the financial disclosures. Additionally, he said county officials who distribute the forms were confused about who needed to be included in reporting to the state.

However, Ethics and Elections chair Rep. Kelly Burke (D - Evergreen Park) contended the reform did not change what needed to be reported or who needed to report. Any financial interests that weren’t disclosed on the old version of the form should have been.

“Much of this should have been being reported under the old form,” Burke said. “The fact that people didn’t understand that or weren’t doing it is troubling.”

Additionally, things that did not originally need to be included do not to be a part of it now. Private retirement funds, like 401ks and spouses’ investments, do not need to be disclosed. Additionally, private assets worth over $10,000 like vehicles or private residencies does not need to be reported.

The intent is to disclose to the state possible conflicts of interest for lawmakers. The form requires listing possible relationships with lobbyists and their forms of income that may influence their vote.

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