CHICAGO – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich used his amendatory veto authority today to significantly strengthen the comprehensive ethics reform package passed recently by the General Assembly.
“I give the legislature all the credit in the world for finally passing something,” the Governor said. “However, just as our legislators weren’t willing to settle for the status quo, I cannot settle for an ethics bill that doesn’t go nearly far enough.”
Blagojevich is inserting language establishing an executive inspector general to oversee the entire executive branch – all constitutional officers and state agencies – and a provision creating an executive ethics commission to review information gathered by the executive inspector general.
The governor is also restoring a provision that establishes an ethics hotline for all state employees working in the executive branch. The number would enable employees and the general public to report wrongdoing to the Executive Inspector General.
“There has never been more momentum and public pressure in Illinois to eliminate corruption and clean up business in Springfield,” Blagojevich said. “We need to seize this opportunity to implement real, long-term reform. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.”
The governor’s amendatory veto makes several significant changes to the legislation as it was passed:
EXECUTIVE INSPECTOR GENERAL
- Creates the position of Executive Inspector General to investigate reports of ethical misconduct in any of the executive branch offices. Currently, Inspector Generals report to their Constitutional Officers, which, while effective in the vast majority of cases, also produces the potential of another George Ryan-Dean Bauer Licenses-for-Bribes scandal. Existing inspector generals appointed by individual constitutional officers will coordinate with and report to the EIG as well as their constitutional officer.
The EIG will be appointed by the governor to a five-year term, and chosen from a pool of five candidates identified by the Executive Ethics Commission. Like most Inspector
Generals, the EIG will have subpoena power and will report to the Ethics Commission. The post requires approval by the advice and consent of the state Senate.
EXECUTIVE ETHICS COMMISSION
- Establishes a seven-member commission to review and make recommendations for action in cases brought forward by the Executive Inspector General and represented by the Attorney General. Like all states with meaningful ethics regulations, the Commission will provide real checks and balances for Illinois, ending a system of self-regulation that has resulted in scandal and embarrassment.
Commission members, who cannot be state government employees, will be nominated by the constitutional officers – each officer will nominate four total, two from each party. From the pool of 20 nominees, the governor will appoint four members, and the highest ranking constitutional officer of the opposing party will appoint three. No more than four commissioners can be from the same party. The seven members must be approved by a simple majority of the state Senate, and will serve 5-year, unpaid terms.
- Sets up a toll-free hotline for all executive branch employees and the general public to report wrongdoing to the EIG or request guidance in understanding the state’s ethics laws.
- Shifts responsibility for ethics training from ethics officers, as written in the original bill, to the EIG, ensuring all state employees receive the same information and guidelines.
- Tightens the Illinois Gift Ban Act by removing 11 exceptions – including those for golf and tennis – and establishing a firm $75 per day limit on the amount lobbyists can spend per legislator or state employee on food and drink. Currently, lobbyists can spend unlimited amounts of money on golf, tennis, food and drink for government officials.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS
- Goes further than the original bill’s ban on using an official’s image or voice in public service announcements during campaign season by completely banning PSA’s that feature the image, voice or name of constitutional officers or members of the General Assembly.
“The focus of a Public Service Announcement should be on the message of the announcement, not the politician promoting the message. If you want to serve in government, focus on government. If you want to appear in commercials, take up acting,” Blagojevich said.
- LOBBYIST REGULATIONSProhibits any state employee who actively participated in making decisions that impact a specific company or employer from accepting a job with that entity within a year of leaving employment with the state. A waiver could only be granted by the Ethics Commission. The restriction in the original bill only applied to employees who were the lead negotiators in contracts worth $25,000 or more.
“These changes take a well intentioned beginning and create a tough ethics package that can proudly rival any in the nation,” Blagojevich said.
The amended ethics legislation will now be sent back to the General Assembly for final approval.