With an ongoing federal probe of lawmakers fueling a drive for new ethics reforms in Springfield, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday said he’s “absolutely committed” to looking into a ban on legislators also working as lobbyists.
But the Democratic governor warned there’s not enough time to tackle all ethical problems plaguing the state during the veto session next week.
And just as Pritzker joined Google to announce a second Chicago office, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin held a news conference to reveal an ethics reform package, with one measure outright banning all state lawmakers from lobbying for any city or county.
State lawmakers are currently banned from working as paid state lobbyists — but the arrest of state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, two weeks ago put a gaping loophole on full display. Although barred by law from lobbying state government, Arroyo — who resigned after being arrested — has been registered with the city of Chicago as a lobbyist since 2017.
The case against Arroyo, who resigned from the General Assembly after his arrest, revolves around his lobbying work in Chicago as manager of Spartacus 3 LLC. Arroyo signed a deal between Spartacus 3 and V.S.S. Inc. in August 2018 that promised $2,500 in monthly payments from V.S.S. to Spartacus. V.S.S. had hired Arroyo’s company to lobby the Chicago City Council for a sweepstakes ordinance, according to the feds.
Pritzker on Thursday said lawmakers must begin to tackle a comprehensive ethics package when they return for the second half of the veto session on Tuesday.
“We need to look at comprehensive ethics reform in our state, and that’s why what I’ve suggested is with only three legislative days next week we’re not going to be able to get done everything that needs to get done. But we ought to begin,” Pritzker said.
“We ought to begin with some bills around transparency, making sure that we know what lobbyists are getting paid, making sure we know who lobbyists are representing, that there’s a common database perhaps so that people could look up all the contributions that are related to a specific company and lobbyists and legislators.”
Asked if an outright ban on state lawmakers being lobbyists in any capacity should be part of that package, Pritzker said he’s “absolutely committed to the idea that we have to look into [it].”
“You see that Rep. Arroyo was a lobbyist for other levels of government. I think that is challenging and problematic,” Pritzker said. “Once again I’m not sure we’ll be able to do the proper amount of investigation and hearings in the three legislative days that are left here this year. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim at getting the best and most comprehensive ethics reform package through that we can.”
Also at the Google event, Illinois Senate Assistant Majority Leader Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said lawmakers should be looking at “more clear demarcation lines as to who could do what.” And he spoke of “angst” over elected officials lobbying lawmakers.
“I was shocked that a member of the General Assembly was essentially being paid to lobby the General Assembly,” Harmon said of Arroyo. “I’m confident that this is illegal today, but I’m also confident that we need more clear demarcation lines as to who could do what. It’s long been a source of angst when other elected officials are lobbying the General Assembly, and I would presume that members of other bodies would feel the same way. A more clear standard of what is and isn’t lobbying is probably a good place to start that conversation.”
Meanwhile, Durkin on Thursday morning unveiled an ethics package that includes five pieces. It includes the revision of economic interest statements to include more details, in hopes of disclosing conflicts of interest; a push for a special election to fill General Assembly vacancies; and an outright ban of legislators, their spouses and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units.
Pritzker on Tuesday told Cook County Democrats that he planned to return to Springfield next week to help craft legislation that would shed more light on lobbyists as the first in “a series of ethics reforms that are frankly long overdue.”
He also once again expressed his anger over corruption becoming a recurring theme as a sprawling federal investigation ensnares state legislators, aldermen and county officials.
Pritzker has increasingly ramped up his rhetorical outrage as the federal investigations dominate the headlines.