SPRINGFIELD — On the heels of the failure of the General Assembly to advance two major initiatives to help end the culture of corruption in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) today proposed giving Illinois the toughest public corruption penalties in the country to hold public officials accountable.

“State government needs to earn back the trust of the people,” Rauner said. “This legislation sends a strong message to politicians and public employees who think they are above the law that Illinois is fighting back.”

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House Bill 5878, sponsored and introduced by Rep. Wehrli, increases or imposes firm penalties for more than 20 offenses to hold politicians and government accountable.

“Public corruption has eroded Illinois’ economy and morale for far too long,” Wehrli said. “Our citizens deserve honesty and integrity in their leaders and public employees. These penalty increases will impose more serious consequences for those looking to take advantage of our taxpayers and encourage good government for generations to come.”

This week was the deadline to put term limits and fair legislative redistricting on the ballot to let voters decide on the issues this November. The General Assembly let the deadline pass without action, preventing voters from the chance to change the face of politics and government in Illinois.

A recent University of Illinois at Chicago study found that the Chicago-based Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is consistently number one in public corruption convictions of all the United States’ judicial districts. Illinois ranks third, ahead of all other large states, in federal public corruption convictions on a per capita basis. Around one person a week, close to 2,000 people, have been convicted of public corruption in Illinois over the last four decades.

“The people of Illinois should be known for our rich farmland, culture, innovation, and economic success, not our debt and corruption,” Rauner said. “This legislation is one great step forward in renewing our reputation by making those in power more accountable to the people they serve.”

Public employees, aldermen, state and federal representatives, and four of Illinois’ last ten governors have been imprisoned for corruption-related offenses.

“Political corruption isn’t just a moral failing, it’s an economic one. Corruption and cronyism have resulted in higher taxes, less economic growth, and special deals for special interests at the expense of the Illinois taxpayer,” Rauner said.

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Writer Thomas J. Gradel and former Chicago alderman Dick Simpson estimated that corruption costs Illinois taxpayers about $500 million per year, in their 2015 book Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism and Criminality.

“Shady business as usual is no longer the standard for Illinois,” Rauner said. “Our administration has been working for over three years to clean up our system through ethics reforms. We have closed the revolving door of state employees leaving the Executive Branch for lobbying. We have tied loopholes in the gift ban, ended corrupt patronage hiring systems, required state employees to disclose more about their economic interests and used online resources to increase transparency.”

Rauner also appointed the state’s first Chief Compliance Officer and Chief Ethics Officer, tasked with developing a plan to create a more accountable government culture.

He issued executive orders prohibiting state lawmakers from representing clients before the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board and requiring sexual harassment allegations be reviewed within ten days.

While these reforms and penalties are significant progress toward more ethical and effective government, state ethics law is also overdue for a comprehensive review to ensure clear and strong ethics expectations. In the coming months, the Governor’s Office intends to promote a series of reforms to clarify outdated or unclear language and to close loopholes.

“More can and must be done. These penalties take those initiatives one step further by implementing real consequences to hold the offenders accountable to the taxpayers,” Rauner said.

Proposed Penalty Enhancements:

  • Bribery
    Increases maximum penalty from a $25,000 fine to a $1 million fine
  • Receiving contributions on state property
    Doubles maximum fine from $5,000 to $10,000
  • Engaging in prohibited political activities
    Increases maximum fine from $2,500 to $10,000
  • Improperly serving on state boards and commissions
    Increases maximum fine from $5,000 to $35,000
  • Legislators abusing their power for financial gain by:
    • Accepting honorarium
      Upgraded from an ethics violation to a Class A Misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $5,100, plus surrender of honorarium to the state
    • Lobbying for compensation or unlawful participation in representation cases
      Increases maximum fine from $2,500 to $200,000
    • Accepting other compensation for official duties
      Upgrades classification from Petty Offense to Class A Misdemeanor and increases maximum fine from $1,000 to $200,000
    • Engaging in corrupt activities that violate the Legislator Code of Conduct
      Sets minimum penalties for specific violations ranging from $1,000 to $35,000

Penalties will also increase for any legislator, public official or public employee fraudulently obtaining public moneys reserved for disadvantaged business enterprises and willfully filing false or incomplete financial disclosure statements.

Finally, the proposed legislation implements a $50 fine for any legislator, public official or public employee who knowingly fails to comply with ethics or sexual harassment prevention training.

“I’m not giving up and neither should the people of Illinois,” Rauner said. “We will continue to propose real reforms that stop politicians and political hires from using the powers of the Illinois government for illegitimate private gain.”

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