Proposal comes as former Illinois House speaker prepares for trial
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House passed a bill Friday [May 12, 2023] that would bar anyone convicted of a felony, bribery, perjury or misuse of public funds while serving as a public official from ever being elected to a state or local office again.
That measure was introduced as an amendment to House Bill 351 on Thursday and moved quickly through the House Ethics and Elections Committee Friday morning with bipartisan support. It then went to the House floor where it passed 106-0.
Current law bars anyone convicted of a felony from holding a state office until they’ve completed their sentence. And a provision of the Illinois Municipal Code bars anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony from holding an elected municipal office.
But those people are free to run for the General Assembly, governor or any other constitutional office once they’ve completed their sentence.
“I think it’s important to note that Illinois is the only state in the nation that bars an individual from running for office based on the office sought, as opposed to the crime committed,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Curtis Tarver (D-Chicago).
Former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich was barred from running for state or local office in Illinois after his impeachment in 2009, but the ban was specific to him.
HB 351 would allow exceptions for people whose convictions have been reversed, if they are restored the right to run by terms of a pardon, if they’ve received a restoration of rights by the governor or their rights are otherwise restored by law.
It also calls for setting up a task force to review current laws and policies about disqualification standards and make recommendations as to what criminal conduct should preclude an individual from holding public office.
The measure comes less than two weeks after the conclusion of the “ComEd Four” trial in which four former officials of Commonwealth Edison were convicted of engaging in a yearslong scheme to bribe former House Speaker Michael Madigan. They were convicted of giving lobbying contracts and no-work jobs to Madigan allies in exchange for favorable legislation in Springfield.
Madigan himself is scheduled to go on trial starting April 1, 2024, on racketeering charges related to his dealings with ComEd as well as his similar alleged dealings with AT&T Illinois, which agreed to pay a $23 million fine in a deferred prosecution agreement in October. Madigan is also accused of improperly wielding his power as both House speaker and head of the state’s Democratic Party to enrich himself via his real estate law firm.
The bill also came during the same week that the Illinois Senate confirmed Michael P. McCuskey, a retired state and federal court judge, to a full term as legislative inspector general. McCuskey was appointed to that post in February 2022 to succeed Carol Pope, who resigned in July 2021 saying she was frustrated at the General Assembly’s lack of action on meaningful ethics reform.
In recent days, Republican lawmakers have been harshly critical of Democrats for not taking swift action on ethics reform following the ComEd Four convictions. Meanwhile, former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who succeeded Blagojevich after his impeachment, made a rare appearance in Springfield to deliver letters to Gov. JB Pritzker and legislative leaders urging them to call a special session to focus on ethics reform.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.