Harassment complaints ignored in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- This week a lobbyist told Springfield lawmakers she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a state senator. But there was no investigation nor follow up.  That troubled State Senator Karen McConnaughay, a member of a commission charged with taking up allegations of sexual harassment. So she started asking questions and found troubling answers.

“Quite frankly for women, this is the worst kept secret the fact that sexual harassment takes place in the workplace,” she said.  “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in government or the private sector.”

Sen McConnaughay sits on a panel that is supposed to oversee ethics complaints.  She says Springfield is ignoring rampant sexual harassment. She wanted to know how many complaints her ethics panel had received.  McConnaughay says she was stunned to learn there were 27 pending ethics complaints.  27 complaints - but no investigations.

“We have been repeatedly told there are no cases. There are no investigations but in reality there are 27 complaints that are sitting in a file folder waiting for an inspector general to be appointed,” she said.

The complaints have not been pursued because there’s no watchdog on job.   For three years the General Assembly’s Ethics Inspector General post has been vacant.

“It is so unacceptable and it is such an indication of the culture in Springfield that has turned a blind eye to these kinds of things,”  McConnaughay said.

Democrats are scrambling to find an Inspector General.

Yesterday in a statement, Senate President John Cullerton said he hopes to name someone soon.

It’s our duty to fill that post. I take responsibility for my role in that lapse, and I apologize for it.

But there’s another problem. Sexual harassment is not listed as a violation of the state ethics act.

“It’s a huge problem because if there was a legislative inspector general it’s unclear what authority that person would have to pursue any investigation,” Colin Williams, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said.

A spotlight was shined on sexual harassment in Illinois politics after more than 100 people signed an open letter claiming the issue is pervasive.

State Senator Ira Silverstein resigned yesterday from his leadership post after the lobbyist testified he made inappropriate comments to her.

Democrats have introduced legislation requiring sexual harassment training for every lawmaker, lobbyist and state employee.

But some say that’s not enough.

“I think we need to make sure we don’t react and put another band aide. We’re great at that in Springfield,” McConnaughay said.

Today, Representative Scott Drury and joined others in calling for an independent investigation by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Springfield leaders say they’d like to name an investigator next week.