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Public Policy and Personal Interest
Center for Public Integrity
Dozens of Illinois state legislators routinely sponsor and vote on legislative measures that could boost their own incomes, a six-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity showed recently (available from www.publicintegrity.org).
The center found, for example, that seven of eight lawmakers who have served as directors or officers of banks in the state have sponsored legislation affecting commercial banks and banking. Seven of the twelve lawmakers with financial interests in farms or farm-related businesses sponsored legislation that could affect those interests. Pharmacist-lawmakers sponsored legislation affecting pharmacies, attorney-lawmakers sponsored legislation affecting the types of law they practice, and public employees sponsored legislation affecting their agencies.
As in many other states across the country, many Illinois lawmakers' personal financial interests neatly intersect their committee assignments. One member owned a trucking company while serving on the Transportation Committee.
Another, who serves as vice chair of the House Public Utility Committee and sits on the Electric Utility Deregulation Committee, owns stock in a Chicago-based utility. Yet another member chairs the Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee while owning a seed-corn business.
In order to determine the part that private financial interests play in Illinois' public policy, center researchers spent months examining the Statements of Economic Interests filed by all 178 members of the General Assembly (forms can be downloaded from www.state.il.us/election/campdown.htm).
We spent weeks transferring information haphazardly documented on these forms into a more easily searchable, name-retrievable database (data from the Center's study is available from www.publicintegrity.org/illinois_appen1.html).
We contacted members to review the information on their filings and, in many cases, to ask for more details from them. We gathered articles of incorporation, limited-partnership papers, and real-estate records to learn more about entities belonging to lawmakers who would not answer our questions.
We systematically coded each economic interest by industry type, based on the Center for Responsive Politics' coding system. Finally, after coding, we scoured thousands of pieces of legislation to determine if lawmakers had sponsored legislation affecting their outside income and asset interests; we contacted lawmakers if it appeared that they had.
When we contacted the 54 members who had not disclosed any information on their Statements of Economic Interests for 1996, we found that at least four of them had interests that they should have revealed. State Representative Mike Bost, for example, did not disclose his ownership (with his wife) of a beauty salon.
State Representative Shirley Jones, a Democrat from Chicago, failed to disclose that she had worked in Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's office until July 1996.
Beth Wait, an aide to State Senator Dave Syverson, told the center that Syverson was involved in "a full-service independent insurance company," yet no such firm was listed on the senator's form and Syverson refused to give the center the name of the company. State Representative N. Duane Noland, a member of the Agriculture Committee and its former chair, failed to disclose on his statement that he is the owner of Noland Farms Inc., a corn and soybean company.
In Illinois, the maximum penalty on the books for "willfully" filing false or incomplete information on a Statement of Economic Interests is a $1,000 fine and a year's imprisonment. However, in reality, lawmakers who failed to disclose outside income on their filings have not been reprimanded or penalized by any enforcement entity.
Although staffers at the Illinois attorney general's office told the center that the secretary of state's office (www.sos.state.il/home.html) has the authority to enforce these disclosure statements, we found that the only penalties a lawmaker has received from that office has been for late filings. Because the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act is not enforced, legislators can Ð and do Ð ignore it with impunity.
The law is so riddled with loopholes, in fact, that it leaves the entire system institutionally suspect when it comes to conflicts of interest. Under the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act, filers don't need to list the locations of partnerships or other enterprises in which they are involved, rendering some of their business interests all but unidentifiable, nor do they generally need to disclose asset and employment information for their spouses and dependent children.
And, in contrast to the financial-disclosure requirements for members of the U.S. Congress and many federal employees, the Illinois law does not require state legislators to list a value range for assets. Lawmakers are not required to file their Statements of Economic Interests until May 1 of the succeeding year, making the information in the forms, in some cases, nearly a year and a half old.
We found that lawmakers' attitudes about conflicts of interest varied greatly.
A handful of legislators disclosed more on their Statements of Economic Interests than was required by law.
A few revealed the number of stock shares they owned on their disclosure filing, although they were not required to do so by law. Of the 32 attorney-lawmakers serving in the General Assembly, one member attached a list of his firm's clients to his disclosure statement, although he was not required to do so.
We asked more than 100 members holding assets to provide us with an asset value range, as members of Congress are required to do under federal law. Eleven members provided us with that information. Many more lawmakers did not give us the information we sought.
Of the124 members who reported private financial interests on their filings, 76 failed to respond to our repeated requests for more information. A handful of those who spoke to us refused to provide us with recent job titles or the names of their businesses. Many lawmakers would not respond to repeated requests for basic information from their filings.
We note in our report that, as in the conflict-of-interest arena, Illinois is an "anything goes" state when it comes to campaign contributions. It has no limits on direct corporate contributions, individual contributions, individual contributions from companies in regulated industries (utilities, for example), or on contributions from political action committees. It also has no limits on campaign expenditures or on the personal use of campaign funds.
Illinois, however, does have particularly demanding disclosure requirements for certain individuals Ñ namely, anyone who seeks copies of the Statements of Economic Interests filed by lawmakers. The law requires that such an individual fill out a Request to Examine Statement of Economic Interests (Form No. I-109.1), listing his or her name, occupation, address, and telephone number, as well as a reason for viewing the report. The law mandates that a copy of this form be sent to the lawmaker in question.
This article contains findings from the report "Anything Goes?" in the March 1998 issue of the Center for Public Integrity's newsletter, The Public I (www.publicintegrity.org/newsletter.html) written by center senior associate Paul Cuadros. Diane Renzulli managed the Center's Power and Money in Indiana and Illinois projects.
Diane Renzulli can be reached at 202-783-3900 or by e-mail at email@example.com.