As Illinois lawmakers consider whether to change ethics laws after recent scandals, former legislative inspector general Julie Porter is urging them to start with themselves.
Mike Smith reports from Springfield.
In prepared remarks — which she was not permitted to read at the hearing — Porter described a “shocking development” since she first went public with her concerns last year.
“Because I am bound to confidentiality, I cannot share with you what this investigation was or detail for you the many hours spent to get to the bottom of what I concluded was serious wrongdoing, warranting a founded summary report and even a formal complaint brought by the Attorney General,” Porter said in her prepared remarks.
“But my report and the Attorney General’s complaint should not be secret. They remain so only because the Legislative Ethics Commission squashed them so that the public could not see what the supposedly independent Inspector General determined to be wrongdoing by a sitting legislator.”
Porter had a strong reputation as a federal prosecutor when she agreed to a temporary stint as Illinois’ legislative inspector general.
But after a little more than a year on the job, she was frustrated and disillusioned.
“Knowing what I know now about the statute, if I were asked to come in tomorrow and do this role again under the same rules, I would not do that because I do think that it would be a waste of time,” Porter told reporters after testifying.
Porter said she spent more than a year investigating dozens of allegations against lawmakers, but at least two of her reports seem to have been buried by legislators on the Ethics Commission.
Her successor as LIG, Carol Pope, did not seek to publish a third report. “It was obvious, I suspect, that the Legislative Ethics Commission would bury it, just like it buried my other report on a similar topic,” Porter said in her written testimony.
Back in the hearing, Porter told lawmakers she spent a lot of time on her investigations and took the role “very seriously” — “tried very hard to do meaningful investigations to get to the bottom of things – it was a waste of time.”
She said state law needs to change so the commission does not consist exclusively of lawmakers sitting as judge and jury for each other.
Porter and her successor, former appellate judge Carol Pope, said the office of the legislative inspector general needs more independence from lawmakers.
Among other suggestions, Pope is calling for the LIG to be able to start investigations without permission and go public when she finds wrongdoing.