Illinois House passes measure to curb 'pay to play'

Adriana Colindres

Hoping to curb the practice of "pay to play" in state government, the Illinois House of Representatives on Thursday unanimously agreed to tougher rules governing state purchases of goods and services.

The House also voted 118-0 on separate legislation that revises the state Ethics Act, in part by giving inspectors general more authority to investigate potential wrongdoing by state employees. They would be able to launch a probe based on an anonymous tip, for example.

"Pay to play" refers to the awarding of state contracts to big-money campaign contributors or others with political influence. Though the practice has been around for years, it allegedly flourished during the administration of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsored both measures, said they are the result of work by the legislature's Joint Committee on Government Reform, a bipartisan panel created in the wake of Blagojevich's arrest on corruption charges and subsequent impeachment.

By tightening rules and ensuring a greater degree of public disclosure, the state procurement process will become more transparent and less susceptible to undue outside influence, said Madigan, a Chicago Democrat.

"We know that this was a major problem in prior (gubernatorial) administrations," he said. "The bill is laced with transparency requirements and notice requirements."

Under the measure, Senate Bill 51, the state executive ethics commission would appoint "chief purchasing officers" to handle state purchases. Upon being confirmed by the Senate, they would serve five-year terms and could be replaced only because of misconduct.

Similarly, purchasing officers and monitors would be appointed to five-year terms to insulate them from political influence or retribution.

Other provisions of the bill would limit state agencies' ability to use emergency contracts and sole-source contracts and would prohibit using independent consultants in the issuing of state bonds.

The legislation also would reverse one of Blagojevich's executive orders, which transferred state agencies' internal auditors to the Department of Central Management Services. They'd be sent back to the state agencies.

This will "begin to help us repair the breach that exists between state government and the people of the state of Illinois," said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

The other proposal on ethics, Senate Bill 54, imposes more stringent rules on the so-called "revolving door," which refers to state workers who take jobs with companies that conduct business with the state.

Another part of SB54 spells out that the results of ethics investigations must be made public if a state employee winds up getting fired or suspended for at least three days. Under existing law, the results of those investigations must remain confidential.

In addition, the bill calls for stricter regulation of lobbyists, requiring them to take an ethics exam and submit regular reports disclosing the expenditures they've made in trying to influence legislation. The reports would be filed on a weekly basis when the General Assembly is in session and on a monthly basis the rest of the time.

Before becoming law, the bills still need to be approved in the Illinois Senate and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or