Pritzker: Illinois needs to eliminate ‘purveyors of greed and corruption.’ Where have we heard that before?
With the Illinois State Legislature convening to begin its spring session last week, Governor J.B. Pritzker delivered the annual State of the State address on Wednesday. The address is typically equal parts “we accomplished this” and “we need to accomplish that.” On his agenda for the year ahead: ethics reform.
Pritzker called for effective and lasting ethics reform legislation to be passed this session, saying, “We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption—in both parties—whose presence infects the bloodstream of government.”
(We’ve covered this several times now, and for good reason: Illinois had continued to sideline ethics reform until very, very recently. However, some legislators are still disappointed despite the enacted changes regarding sexual harassment, conflicts of interest, and lobbying.)
If you’re familiar with politics in Illinois, you undoubtedly know ethics and corruption issues have plagued our state for years. At the Center, we wondered, “How does J.B.’s remark stack up to previous governors’ remarks?”
What JB said:
“And now we have to work together to confront a scourge that has been plaguing our political system for far too long. We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption—in both parties—whose presence infects the bloodstream of government. It's no longer enough to sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion, or bribery persist. Protecting that culture or tolerating it is no longer acceptable. We must take urgent action to restore the public's trust in our government. That's why we need to pass real, lasting ethics reform this legislative session.”
Prior to specifying legislative actions like restricting current legislators from lobbying for profit, improving conflict of interest disclosure forms, and instituting revolving door prohibitions for legislators, Pritzker put a target not only on lobbyists but unnamed legislators who abet and profit from an atmosphere in Springfield widely tagged as dirty and corrupt.
This is arguably the most direct choice in words by a governor in at least 20 years. However, he’s not the only governor to touch on this.
What Blago said:
In opening his 2003 State of the State Address, Governor Rod Blagojevich referred to predecessor George Ryan’s bribery scandal as “the worst scandal [in Illinois] in more than a century” before positing Illinois’ need to become “a state whose government is honest, fair and just. A state with integrity. A state we can take pride in.”
“We must first restore the ethical and fiscal integrity of our state,” he went on.
After listing his administration's accomplishments since taking office—including eliminating government waste and inefficiency a la patronage jobs and creating the office of the Inspector General—Blago went on to propose a new ethics board that would “make sure that violators get a whole lot more than a slap on the wrist, handing down suspension and firing recommendations swiftly and fairly in cases of unacceptable behavior by any state employee at any level.”
In his 2004 address, Gov. Blagojevich reviewed a year that included “[ethics] reforms that ended the practice of the unlimited wining and dining of public officials; reforms that ended the practice of using the people's money to fund public service announcements, reforms that ended the conflict of interest that exists when government officials regulate companies one day and go to work for them the next,” this last point referring to the so-called revolving door that remains at the center of Illinois’ ethics reform debate.
However, the soon-to-be convicted Blagojevich made little or no mention of ethics reform in his next four addresses.
What Quinn said:
Governor Pat Quinn took over in Springfield as the fallout from Blagojevich’s own scandal rocked the state. In his 2009 State of the State Address, Quinn said, “Our government has an integrity crisis and Illinois must embrace far reaching ethics reform.”
However, Quinn stopped short of pointing the finger at specific actors in this address. He would mention the circumstances of his ascension to the governorship in most of his State of the State addresses, but Quinn mostly shied away from language akin to Pritzker’s “purveyors of greed and corruption” or Blagojevich’s acknowledgement of “unacceptable behavior by any state employee.”
Instead, Governor Quinn kept the focus on concentrating power and oversight of the state government to its constituents. His 2009 address touted the Illinois Reform Commission and the Illinois Sunshine Project. Quinn also said the state needs to “give voters the power to recall statewide elected officials if they betray the public trust.” Addresses in 2010 and 2012 would similarly review legislative accomplishments regarding campaign finance restrictions and more economic interest disclosure requirements by state employees.
In his penultimate address in 2013, Governor Quinn used his most direct language to date: “Four years ago, Illinois was the Wild West of campaign fundraising. And it showed. We had a corrupt governor removed from office and headed to prison, and another already in prison, both for fundraising abuses.”
What Rauner said:
Businessman Bruce Rauner defeated Quinn and gave his first State of the State address in 2015. Similarly, Governor Rauner sought to strengthen public oversight and scrutiny over state government. However, while his predecessor focused on campaign finance reform, conflict of interest disclosure, and the choice to recall state officials, Rauner set his own agenda by calling for changes to the redistricting process and the establishment of term limits for state officials. He didn’t stop there though; Rauner would also take aim at union and institutional clout in campaign finance.
“Government unions should not be allowed to influence the public officials they are lobbying and sitting across the bargaining table from through campaign donations and expenditures… While we currently ban contributions from many businesses with state contracts, some of the largest recipients of taxpayer money, like hospitals that receive millions from Medicaid, are still able to funnel huge campaign donations to elected officials. Let’s close the Special Interest Loophole, by extending the prohibition on political contributions for businesses with state contracts to all organizations with a state collective bargaining agreement, and organizations funded by entities receiving state Medicaid funds.”
Governor Rauner would go on to devote portions of his next two addresses on restoring the public’s trust in the Illinois government. In 2017, he touted the passage of revolving door prohibitions for employees of the state gov’s executive branch, the closing of gift ban loopholes, and increased transparency through publicly available economic interest forms.
In 2018, Rauner delivered his final address. This time, ethics reform was less about issues of redistricting and lobbying. Instead, he announced a pending executive order strengthening sexual harassment reporting procedures.
Call to Action
Strengthening the public’s trust in our state government has been, at one point or another, an important item for each governor since George Ryan. What that has meant to each governor has shifted over time, from policy measures of trimming patronage jobs to more campaign finance disclosures.
Although his remarks were not as substantive as some previous addresses, Governor Pritzker’s call to action seems more dire and more severe than that of Blagojevich, Quinn, and Rauner. We at the Center ask that the state legislature heed his call and determine a path toward practical and binding ethics reform. After all, it’s been on our to-do list for decades.
Illinois’ top issues
The Center for Illinois Politics is dedicated to providing you with clear, fact-based, non-partisan information on our state’s biggest issues.
IL Campaign Cash
Take a streamlined spin behind the scenes through Illinois’ biggest and most impactful campaign funds.
Illinois’ top issues
With elections behind us, it’s time to get down to business. The Center for Illinois Politics your resource for non-partisan information on our state’s biggest issues: