Former legislative inspector general claims Ethics Commission squashed investigations into wrongdoing

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- As pressure mounts on Illinois lawmakers to stop handcuffing the watchdog that is supposed to investigate legislative wrongdoing, there are bombshell allegations the Ethics Commission covered up a probe that found serious wrongdoing by a lawmaker.

Three current or former legislative inspectors general testified Thursday before a special commission to find ways to clean up Springfield. There is bipartisan agreement that it's time for legislative leaders to act.

Concerns about corruption have gained a higher profile recently after the guilty bribery plea by former state senator Martin Sandoval and the arraignment of former state representative Luis Arroyo to his own bribery charges.

But Thursday former legislative inspector general Julie Porter told the Joint Commission on Ethics that three investigations she conducted were squashed by the Legislative Ethics Commission, including one where she found serious wrongdoing by a lawmaker.

"Those are all reports that I think are very much in the public interest that should not have been denied publication," she said.

CLICK HERE to read Porter's full written testimony

"The public should know, but instead you have the fox guarding the henhouse. Other members decided they were not going to release this report," said State rep. David McSweeney (R-Cary). "It's got to stop, the culture of corruption in Springfield has got to stop. They should immediately release this report right now."

Other current and former legislative inspectors general joined Porter to raise concerns that the eight lawmakers who sit on the Ethics Commission hold the power to release or keep secret those founded reports, as well as the authority to approve investigations in the first place.

"There's really no reason why the LIG should report to people whom she is charged with investigating," Porter said. "This is a great opportunity for this joint commission to make this change. It is absolutely critical to the independence of the LIG."

"I've heard from colleagues that, you know, you don't want an inspector general going rogue or running roughshod," said State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago). "You don't see that happening around the country. I don't think that's a real risk. What is a real risk is people losing confidence in who we are as a body and what we do."

And lawmakers called on Governor JB Pritzker to be involved.

"He has to lead on this issue of corruption, it's not going to get done without the governor being active," Rep. McSweeney said.

Porter is recommending that the Legislative Ethics Commission should not be staffed by people appointed by legislative leaders. She is also pushing to give the Legislative Inspector General the sole power to publish reports about wrongdoing by lawmakers.

A spokesman for Gov. Pritzker released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying, "The Governor has made it clear he values the testimony and input given to the bipartisan ethics commission and looks forward to reviewing their recommendations. It's time to root out corruption and ensure our political environment is inclusive and safe for all."
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