The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers
Ethics corner: Blagojevich signs ethics reforms into law
On December 9, 2003, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed into law the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act. This legislation, which is touted by the Governor's Office "as the toughest, most comprehensive ethics reform package in the state's history," contains more definitive rules regarding what constitutes improper use of State time and resources, improves ethics training and reporting procedures, and establishes strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure ethics rules are followed.
It took nearly a year and two pieces of legislation to pass ethics reform. Original ethics legislation was passed by the General Assembly on May 31, 2003 (House Bill 3412). The Governor amendatorily vetoed the legislation, saying that it "lacked certain fundamental components present in states with respected ethics laws." Specifically, the Governor found that the original legislation lacked enforcement mechanisms and failed to address violations of the Gift Ban Act, ethics training, an ethics hotline and the inappropriate use of public service announcements. The initial legislation therefore was returned to the General Assembly for consideration with specific recommendations to make the legislation stronger. The General Assembly ultimately overrode the Governor's amendatory veto on November 19, 2003, and House Bill 3412 became effective that same day (Public Act 93-0615).
The General Assembly, however, also passed additional legislation. Senate Bill 702 was passed by the General Assembly upon the condition that House Bill 3412 as originally passed by the General Assembly became law by override of the Governor's amendatory veto. Senate Bill 702 contained provisions to amend the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act as contained in House Bill 3412 (Public Act 93-0615). Senate Bill 702 passed both houses on November 20, 2003, and was signed by the Governor on December 9, 2003 (Public Act 93-0617). Thus, both public acts must be read together in order to understand the new ethics measures and requirements.
Key elements of the new ethics rules are as follows:
• Requires ethics training for all State employees.
• Bans taxpayer-funded public service announcements, newspaper or magazine ads, bumper stickers, billboards, buttons, magnets and stickers that feature the image, voice or name of constitutional officers or members of the General Assembly.
• Prohibits State workers from leaving government employment and immediately accepting jobs with companies that they regulated or licensed or were involved with in awarding State contracts worth more than $25,000. The prohibition lasts for one year after an employee leaves the State payroll and may be waived by filing a written request with the appropriate entity.
• Removes numerous exemptions in the Gift Ban Act, including those for golf and tennis, and limits lobbyist spending on food and drinks to $75 per State employee or State official per day.
• Prohibits lobbyists and individuals with a personal financial interest in State contracts from serving on boards or commissions.
• Requires contacts made with certain State regulatory or investment boards by unpaid advisors serving on behalf of constitutional officers to file Statements of Economic Interest, and requires disclosure of all ex parte communications involving various State regulators and licensing agents.
• Strengthens the prohibition against using State employees for political work, and bans accepting or making political contributions on State property.
• Requires documentation of work time for all State employees and the periodic submission of time sheets documenting time spent each day on official State business to the nearest quarter hour.
• Prohibits the retaliation against State employees who report suspected ethics violations.
• Establishes a nine-member Executive Ethics Commission to review and determine appropriate action in cases brought forward by the executive inspectors general and represented by the Attorney General. The Governor appoints five members, each of the other four constitutional officers appoints one; no more than five may be from the same political party. Commission members cannot be State government employees, and will receive the same part-time salary rate as members of the State Board of Elections (set by the Compensation Review Board).
• Requires each constitutional officer to appoint an executive inspector general (EIG) to review complaints of corruption or wrongdoing within each respective office. EIGs will be empowered with subpoena authority and will report to the independent ethics commission as well as the constitutional officer who appoints them. Previously, only the Governor, Treasurer and Secretary of State had inspectors general, and only the Secretary of State's inspector had subpoena power.
• Establishes stiff penalties-including Class A misdemeanor charges, possible dismissal and tough fines-for those found guilty of impropriety by the ethics commission.
• Establishes an eight-member Legislative Ethics Commission to review cases of wrongdoing within the legislative branch. Each legislative leader appoints two members.
• Creates the position of Legislative Inspector General, who will be nominated by the Legislative Ethics Commission and confirmed by the General Assembly.
A copy of Public Acts 93-0615 and 93-0617 may be found on the General Assembly's Web site at <www.legis.state.il.us>