Online Staff Report
CHICAGO — Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon (D) and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform renewed their call Aug. 24 for greater transparency and openness at all levels of Illinois government and said they look forward to working with Legislative Inspector General Thomas Homer to pass the next wave of ethics reform.
Simon praised Homer for a letter he recently sent to state legislators urging them to create stronger ethics laws and produce greater accountability. As a champion for open, honest government, Simon and a team of volunteer legal experts and good government groups have been working together this summer to draft stronger financial disclosure forms known as Statements of Economic Interest (SEI). She plans to introduce legislation revising the SEI in the coming months.
“We need to ask our elected officials better questions about their potential conflicts of interest and require real answers,” Simon said. “The current disclosure statements are practically meaningless to the people we serve. I look forward to working with the General Assembly and other allies to give citizens the information they have a right to know.”
Constitutional officers, elected officials and high-ranking public employees are required to file an SEI on an annual basis. The forms are supposed to expose existing or potential conflicts of interest, but the documents use such vague and cumbersome language that the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) has called them “woefully inadequate” and “a waste of paper.”
For example, more than 24,000 elected officials and public employees in Chicago and suburban Cook County file annually with Clerk David Orr’s office. But Orr’s analysis of the 2011 filings showed that only 13 percent of all filers answered at least one question; most simply filled in the blanks with “not applicable.”
David Morrison, deputy director of ICPR, said: “Comprehensive economic disclosure illuminates potential conflicts of interest. Putting a spotlight on the economic interests of public officials can reduce public skepticism and distrust. Legislative Inspector General Tom Homer is on the right track with a two-pronged approach, seeking both better disclosure of conflicts of interest and clearer standards for how officials should handle their conflicts. However, the reforms should not be limited to the General Assembly. We need more disclosure of income sources, debts, business interests and other economic interests of high-ranking public officials in all branches of government.”
An ICPR review of the personal economic interest forms filed by candidates who have sought both state and federal office showed that the federal disclosure form often elicits more information.
In April, Simon led by example in disclosing her personal tax returns and directing her senior staff to disclose groundbreaking personal financial information, modeled after federal disclosure forms. Releasing the information empowers taxpayers by revealing any potential conflicts of interest that Simon, or her staff, face in shaping and implementing public policies.