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Ridding Corruption In Illinois, A Step-by-Step Approach

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Feb 7, 2009 9:30PM

2009_02_07_corrupt.jpg Adding to post-impeachment “stop corruption in Illinois” demands, a new University of Illinois at Chicago report draws on the state’s 150-year history of political sleaze to offer tips for improvement. The 49-page delve into Illinois dirty laundry traces its corruption record back to the 1860s, when the report’s authors say disorderly and rapid population growth in Chicago, in addition to a mass influx of immigrants needing support from local officials, fed the fire of the now infamous Machine.

According to the report, “Curing Corruption in Illinois,” [PDF] there have been 1,000 Illinois public officials and businessmen convicted of corruption since 1970 alone. Included among them are three other governors (pre-Blagojevich), 30 aldermen (whose crimes ranged from pay-to-play schemes to tax fraud), 19 Cook County judges, two congressmen and several state legislators.

To combat the vicious cycle, the report’s authors encourage serious attention be paid to ethics reform while public interest is still high. “Because of the history of corruption and the high level of continuing corruption in Illinois, now is the time to build a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy,” said study co-author Dick Simpson, the head of political science at UIC and a former 44th Ward alderman. Among its suggestions, increased punishment for unethical behavior, enacting “public campaign financing for all major state and local government offices, including judicial campaigns,” limiting lobbyist activities and taking a strong stance against “gifts” are priorities.

Closing loopholes in the state’s Freedom of Information Act to increase government transparency, boosting the role of the inspector general and requiring public schools to teach about corruption are also high on the to-do list.
“Corruption is not funny and it is not free,” say the report’s authors who estimate $300 million in tax dollars are wasted on it each year. And almost anyone would agree. Unless of course you knew about Paul Powell, the former Illinois secretary of state. He left behind an unexplained $800,000 stuffed in his shoeboxes when he died in 1970. Maybe that warrants at least a chuckle.

Post by Kalyn Belsha
Photo by Kenny Miller