Illinois state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, had just finished lunch with a state senator on an August afternoon in Highland Park. They stepped outside to talk.
“Let’s be clear,” Arroyo allegedly told the state senator. “My word is my bond and my, my reputation.”
Federal agents were listening to Arroyo.
The state senator was wearing a wire.
Arroyo was arrested Oct. 25 and charged with bribery of a state official. According to the federal complaint, Arroyo tried to steer $2,500 a month to the unnamed state senator in exchange for backing legislation related to gambling sweepstakes. If convicted, Arroyo faces up to 10 years in prison.
The unnamed state senator to whom Arroyo allegedly floated the payments has been cooperating with investigators since 2016, when the FBI obtained evidence that the senator had submitted false income tax returns, according to the complaint.
“I’m going to give you this here,” Arroyo allegedly said while passing the state senator his first bribe. “This is, this is, this is the jackpot.”
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and House Speaker Mike Madigan called for Arroyo to resign.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker was more lenient, calling only for Arroyo to step down from his committee chairmanship, according to Springfield political blog Capitol Fax.
Arroyo was the chairman of the House Appropriations-Capital committee, through which he steered Pritzker’s $45 billion infrastructure package earlier this year. Arroyo’s legislative counterpart in the plan, state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, saw his home and government offices raided by the FBI and IRS in September. Sandoval has since stepped down as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be chairman of this committee and to be able to pass this $45 billion capital plan, the largest in the history of the state of Illinois,” Arroyo said at a Pritzker press conference heralding the infrastructure plan. That plan was funded in part by an expansion of Illinois gambling and a doubling of the state’s gas tax, which now stands as the third-highest in the nation, among other tax and fee hikes.
Curbing Illinois corruption
Despite the cost and damage of political corruption in Illinois, state lawmakers have done little to address it.
Pritzker and other legislative leaders should back commonsense anti-corruption reforms for Illinois, many of which were included in a 2009 state report released following the indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. They include:
- Strengthened revolving door restrictions on state lawmakers.
- Empowering the Illinois legislative inspector general, which is a muzzled watchdog office that must seek approval from state lawmakers before opening a corruption investigation in the Illinois General Assembly.
- Mandating state lawmakers recuse themselves from votes in which they have a conflict of interest.
- Reforming the Illinois House rules, which grant more concentrated power to the House speaker than any other legislative rules in the country.
- Using objective scoring criteria for capital projects, akin to Virginia’s Smart Scale model. Illinois infrastructure dollars are too often directed by clout rather than need.
- Passing a bipartisan constitutional amendment to end politically drawn legislative maps in Illinois.