“Here’s the problem. Our constituents are complaining about perceived ethical lapses among members of the legislature. You know, apparent conflicts of interest and that sort of thing: having shares in industries we regulate, receiving sizable campaign donations from those industries, etc., the assumption being that our votes might be swayed by such considerations. So, how do we address these concerns?”
“How about establishing an ethics commission?”
“Great idea! Whom should we appoint to it?”
“How about Sen. Allworthy? He has an impeccable reputation.”
“Hmm. I don’t know. He’s kind of a Goody Two-shoes.”
“What about Sen. Upright?”
“He’s a stick in the mud. Too inflexible.”
“Sen. Craven or Sen. Boondoggle?”
“Now, you’re talking!”
That’s how the game is played. Get the grift and the graft while the getting’s good and then, when you get too greedy – as you inevitably will, just like all the opportunistic officeholders before and after you – and word gets out about your depredations and even the dullest citizens start to murmur, announce the establishment of an ethics commission to look into the matter and appoint the right people to it – which is to say, the wrong people (i.e., your cronies). Problem solved.
Ask Republican Sen. Jason Plummer of Edwardsville how it works. He found out the hard way. Plummer was named to the legislature’s Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform on Nov. 25, but then stepped down when he saw what it would cost.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington offered him the position, provided he would stop criticizing Brady’s connections to the gaming interest. Plummer would also have had to agree not to file a bill he’d written “that severely curtails the ability of lawmakers and staff of the Illinois General Assembly from having ownership in, or being compensated by, the gaming industry while in office” and addresses “some of the serious conflicts of interest that presently can exist between lawmakers and industries over which they hold significant influence.”
Plummer decided he’d rather be ethical than be on the ethics commission.