Guest Column: Political corruption not a victimless crime

Guest Column: Political corruption not a victimless crime

By Pat Quinn

The penalties for political shakedowns of families and businesses just got tougher under a bill signed without fanfare on August 28. The result can be savings for taxpayers and more protection for consumers.

As Illinois State Treasurer (1991-95), I proposed the “Inspector Misconduct Act” to ban government employees from soliciting campaign donations from businesses or persons they regulate or inspect. Now, after an eight-year legislative struggle, the bill has become law. It applies to a wide range of industries, such as nursing homes, auto dealers, private landfills and school bus companies.

Any state or local inspector violating the new law faces loss of job and a Class A misdemeanor charge.

Political corruption is not a victimless crime. Business owners have a right to operate in a climate free of intimidation, without having to fork over a “corruption tax” to government inspectors. Consumers have a right to know that inspectors are inspecting, not prospecting. And honest government workers have a right to blow the whistle on corruption without fear of reprisals.

The license-for-bribes scandal may have been prevented if a few brave whistleblowers were heeded. The new law makes it safer for whistleblowers. Any state or local government employee who reports corruption has increased protections against being fired, demoted, threatened or harassed.

Gov. Ryan can enforce this far-reaching reform by vigorously educating business owners, government workers and the public that the age of political shakedowns is over.

To best inform the public about these landmark changes, the Department of Revenue could easily insert brief, plain language information about the new law in the upcoming 2002 state income tax booklets. The websites of various state and local agencies could be used, too. All local and state government employees could be informed of the stronger whistleblower protections by inserting an explanation of the new law in their paychecks.

Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan could establish a confidential, toll-free hotline for any business owner, government employee or consumer to call to report a shakedown.

This new law is strong medicine to cure the corruption tax paid by every taxpayer and every consumer. We all have a stake in seeing this new law enforced to the maximum.

Pat Quinn is the former Illinois State Treasurer and Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor.

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