Fostering Government Integrity, Reform and Transparency

It is no secret that Illinois politics has a corruption problem. Over the past several years, we in Illinois have seen increasing numbers of public officials accused of fraud and abuse of power. The state deserves more from its public servants.

As attorney general, I am deeply committed to rooting out public corruption and restoring faith in government. Moreover, Illinois residents also need to know how their government is operating, in both the executive branch and the legislature.

I will work immediately to implement a comprehensive approach to rooting out waste, fraud and corruption wherever it exists. I also will work to promote transparency in government.

I.          Strengthen the current Government Integrity Bureau to bolster efforts to promote government integrity

The attorney general’s office has an important role to play in rooting out corruption and misconduct among our public officials. As an independent constitutional officer in the state, I will work diligently to help restore public trust in government by making government accountability and integrity a top priority for the office.

First, I will strengthen the Government Integrity Bureau in the Office of the Attorney General to ensure there are sufficient checks and balances in place to hold our public officials accountable and to restore the people’s trust in honest government. When government employees or private individuals, acting in concert with them, engage in corruption, fraud or illegal behavior in the course of their public duties, the newly-empowered GIB will either directly, or in collaboration with other appropriate entities, investigate or take enforcement action to restore the residents’ faith in honest government and the integrity of officials at the state and local level. The GIB will pursue cases pursuant to both civil and criminal authority and will issue reports about its investigations and findings so that its work is transparent to the public.

Second, I will pursue a legislative agenda intended to enhance the attorney general’s powers in investigating and prosecuting public corruption.

Finally, I will designate integrity officers in every region of the state to give Illinois residents a place to report complaints of government corruption without fear of local politics influencing the outcome.

II.          Work to introduce revisions to the statute governing the Illinois Legislative Ethics Commission, Executive Inspector General and Legislative Inspector General

Currently, the primary mechanism for holding our political leaders accountable for misconduct is through the work of the Office of Legislative Inspector General and the Executive Inspector General. However, as they currently exist,

both of these entities lack sufficient independence and powers to hold bad actors accountable in a meaningful way. As attorney general, I will propose and advocate for revisions to the statutes governing the jurisdiction of the Office of Legislative Inspector General and Executive Inspector General to address the deficiencies in a way that will result in more effective, consistent oversight.

The Executive Inspector General’s office is responsible for the ethical activities of 170,000 people, including the governor, state employees and appointees, more than 300 state agencies, departments and boards, nine state universities and four regional transit boards.

The Office of the Legislative Inspector General is responsible for investigating complaints of violations of any law, rule or regulation, abuse of authority or other forms of misconduct by members of the General Assembly and state employees under the jurisdiction of the legislature.

Recently, the legislature appointed a temporary Legislative Inspector General, a position vacant since 2014, when it became public that at least 27 misconduct complaints had been shelved because there was no Inspector General in place to investigate them. The fact this position remained unfilled for several years is unconscionable and demonstrates the lack of interest our political leaders show when it comes to integrity and accountability.

There are serious flaws in the Legislative Inspector General and Executive Inspector General statutes. An inspector general is supposed to be independent and operate without interference from the possible subjects of investigation.

As attorney general, I would propose the following reforms to provide real enforcement authority to the Office of Legislative Inspector General to root out fraud and corruption and to ensure that valid complaints do not go uninvestigated for years:

●      Greater transparency and reporting: There are legal impediments to public reporting regarding the work of these offices. The public deserves to know the nature and scope of complaints that have been filed and how they are being handled. I propose greater transparency through additional reporting to the extent feasible without jeopardizing ongoing investigations.

●      Greater independence and integrity in the investigative process: Under the current governing statute, the Legislative Inspector General must issue a report to the political leadership of the legislature and the head of any involved agency. The relevant legislative leader or agency head is allowed an opportunity to provide a response to the report before the Legislative Inspector General determines whether a complaint should be filed with the Ethics Commission. If the Legislative Inspector General determines a complaint should be issued, notification is sent to the Legislative Ethics Commission before the attorney general can initiate its review of the matter. In addition, the Legislative Inspector General can only issue subpoenas with the permission of the Legislative Ethics Commission, which would provide members with some visibility as to the nature and scope of the investigation underway. These mechanisms could impair the integrity of an investigation because individuals could know the nature and scope of the investigation who are either under investigation or who have close ties to those under investigation. Moreover, the attorney general may not begin an investigation or review until receipt of notice from the commission. I propose the following:

o   The Legislative Inspector General should be able to initiate the attorney general’s review of any investigative matter directly before making notification to the legislative leaders or the Legislative Ethics Commission.

o   The Legislative Inspector General should be able to issue subpoenas independently of the Legislative Ethics Commission.

o   The Legislative Inspector General should be permitted to consult with the attorney general on investigative matters at any time in the process to ensure the investigation proceeds in a productive and effective manner.

●      Currently, the employment of staff by the Legislative Inspector General is subject to the approval of at least three of the four legislative leaders. The Legislative Ethics Commission also has the power to define the rules governing investigations of the Legislative Inspector General. Therefore, I propose to:

o   Permit the Legislative Inspector General to hire staff without approval from the legislature; and

o   Draft the rules governing the operation of the office. 

●      Statute of limitations and other timeliness restrictions: The Legislative Inspector General is precluded from initiating an investigation more than one year after the most recent act of an alleged violation or of a series of alleged violations except where there is reasonable cause to believe fraudulent concealment has occurred. Although it is important that ethics investigations be initiated and concluded in a timely manner, the one-year time limitation is overly restrictive as there may be circumstances precluding an individual from filing a complaint within that time frame. I would suggest a limitation period of three years. There are also time constraints on various stages of the investigation and adjudication process of matters within the Legislative Inspector General’s jurisdiction. For example, the attorney general must conclude its review and file a complaint before the Legislative Ethics Commission within six months of receiving case materials from the Legislative Inspector General. For complex matters, the attorney general is likely to undertake additional investigative activities that could require more than the allotted six months. I support relaxing some of the time constraints to allow more time to ensure the investigative process is thorough. 

●      More financial certainty and resources: The office’s budget is determined during the state’s annual appropriation process. As a result, the effectiveness of these offices can be jeopardized by funding cuts, perhaps even as a result of political retribution. I will work to ensure these offices have sufficient funding and there is certainty in their funding streams.

III.          Establish and publicize a complaint line for individuals to call to report allegations of misconduct by public officials or government agency employees

Illinois residents need a mechanism for reporting incidents of misconduct hey can trust. To the extent permissible by law, I will work to establish a hotline for the reporting of allegations of misconduct committed by public officials or government agency employees. This hotline will serve as a clearinghouse. I will work to add resources to the attorney general’s office so that complaints will be referred to the appropriate entity or be investigated by the attorney general’s office as permissible by law. Each year, my office will publish a compilation of complaints received, the type of complaint, and, to the extent permissible by law, the disposition. This will provide more transparency on complaints of public corruption and misconduct by public officials.

IV.          Coordinate with the state’s attorneys to ensure that any public corruption and police misconduct prosecutions in which the state’s attorney has a conflict of interest are referred to the office for prosecution to the extent permissible by law

The powers of the attorney general include assisting state's attorneys in prosecutions "when, in his judgment, the interest of the people of the state requires it." (15 ILCS 205/ 4.) Prosecution assistance has been a major function, particularly necessary when serious cases have arisen in smaller counties with limited resources. Criminal activity on a multicounty basis has led to statutory power to convene a statewide grand jury with powers crossing jurisdictional lines for investigation of specified drug and street-gang related offenses. (725 ILCS 215/1 et seq.)  I will create a new unit within the Government Integrity Bureau that will focus on political corruption, including police misconduct cases that can assist the state’s attorneys and take cases where the state’s attorney has a real or perceived conflict of interest in the prosecution.

V.          Work with law enforcement to establish a statewide public integrity task force to ensure that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies coordinate activities and share strategies and tactics for investigating public corruption matters

I will work to convene a task force comprised of local, state and federal agencies that will promote collaboration and coordination of investigative resources and share information and expertise.

VI.          Strengthen checks and balances to ensure that our state government operates with integrity and transparency

Many small municipalities do not have the resources to have their own inspector generals so the attorney general’s office can be an important resource to:

●       Encourage municipalities to have administrative policies in place regarding the investigation and adjudication of disciplinary violations so the process can be effective and transparent, and employees can be disciplined in appropriate circumstances; and

●       Provide and develop “best practices” for use by these municipalities.

VII.          Make government open and transparent for citizens and help to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act

The people have a right to know what business is being conducted on their behalf. Public officials have a duty and responsibility to be as transparent as possible, such that citizens have confidence their government business is being conducted with integrity. The office of the Public Access Counselor is responsible for assisting the state in deciding disputes concerning government records requests. The mission of the PAC is "to help people obtain public documents and access public meetings." The PAC is responsible for defending and interpreting requests for review under FOIA and OMA. In recent years, the PAC has received a steadily increasing number of requests for review. Yet, the PAC only has a staff of 14 lawyers and a budget of less than $1 million, and has a backlog of requests.

Defending and interpreting FOIA and OMA are essential functions of the attorney general’s office. FOIA and OMA are the cornerstones to building transparent and accountable governments. As attorney general, I will ensure the PAC is properly funded and staffed, and fight to keep government open, transparent and accessible.