CHICAGO — The former legislative inspector general told the newly formed ethics commission that Illinois lawmakers covered up “serious wrongdoing” by another lawmaker and then hid the report from the public.
This disclosure comes as the FBI is conducting a wide-ranging corruption probe that reaches from Chicago to the suburbs to Springfield.
Several state lawmakers have either been indicted or are under federal investigation, but a former top watchdog says lawmakers haven’t treated her position seriously.
“No one would take this job, because there’s no point,” said Julie Porter, former Legislative Inspector General.
She minced no words in declaring the state government’s system for investigating ethical complaints to be “broken.”
“I tried very hard to do meaningful investigations and get to the bottom of things. It was a waste of time,” Porter added.
In testimony before the newly created Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, Porter told the commission that legislators suppressed an investigation into another sitting lawmaker.
In written testimony, she said the investigation involved “serious wrongdoing,” and that lawmakers have the “power to kill,” before ultimately concluding “the fox is guarding the henhouse.”
“Many of the things that I did have not been debated, and assessed and discussed in the way they should be because of the structure of the rules,” Porter said.
Because Porter is bound to confidentiality, she says she couldn’t offer further details of the case.
The inspector general is supposed to be the main watchdog, ensuring state lawmakers don’t have conflicts of interest or engage in unethical behavior — like bribery, tax evasion or sexual harassment.
But to do her job, the new inspector general says she has to get lawmakers to sign off on investigations of their own colleagues.
“I don’t think there’s another IG in the country who has to ask,” Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope told the commission.
Another former inspector general also noted that lawmakers have acted to keep controversial cases behind closed doors.
“Usually on the most controversial of cases, the ones that people have the greatest interest in, are the ones that end up getting buried. And the view of the public is ‘well, nobody looked into it,’” said former inspector Tom Horner.
The commission is set to produce a report with recommendations for reforms to address ethics concerns by the end of March and it looks like the inspector general’s office might be granted more independence.