Column

McSweeney: Investigate Jim Durkin’s Illinois House operation

State Rep. David McSweeney
State Rep. David McSweeney

Leader Jim Durkin has had an opportunity to be a statesman and take the bold step of rooting out corruption and wrongdoing in his own caucus. It is easy to be for ethics when the other party is under fire - it is not so easy when it potentially involves your own party. Leader Durkin is being tested and, so far, he is miserably failing that test. I’m willing to stand up against misconduct on both sides of the aisle.

The first issue at hand is a buried founded misconduct report about a member of the General Assembly. Former Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter penned an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune on April 23 expressing disappointment in the fact that some of her findings never saw the light of day.

Porter is a very well-respected attorney. She performed her job admirably as Legislative Inspector General and her views should be taken seriously. In her op-ed, Porter wrote, “I issued a founded summary report — a report where I found that a legislator engaged in wrongdoing — that was not published. I requested publication, and the commission refused.”

Only the Legislative Ethics Commission can formally release the legislator misconduct finding, but the members of the commission are all General Assembly members. Essentially what we have in Springfield is insiders protecting insiders.

It is highly inappropriate for members of the General Assembly to not release a report about misconduct by one of their colleagues. As Porter noted in her op-ed, “The new Legislative Inspector General…will not be able to serve as an independent Legislative Inspector General (LIG) if the structure remains as it is. Non-legislators should serve on the commission, and the LIG should not need anyone’s permission before opening an investigation, serving a subpoena or publishing a founded summary report. These changes would be an excellent start to promote accountability in Illinois.”

I concur!

In Springfield, there are insiders and then there are real insiders. Legislative leaders, by virtue of their position as leaders, are privy to information that most rank and file members simply do not have. I believe that Leader Jim Durkin is aware of the founded misconduct that Porter is referring to and that it likely involves a Republican House member.

Even if the buried report is about a Democrat, Durkin very likely has access to the information. Two members of Durkin’s leadership team are on the Legislative Ethics Commission, with one serving as the chairman of the commission. It is highly doubtful that Leader Durkin is truly in the dark about this situation.

Leader Durkin needs to stop hiding behind the commission’s decision to bury the report and immediately publicly disclose what he knows about the legislator misconduct. What did Jim Durkin know and when did he know it?

Petitions can be filed starting on Sept. 3. We have a Legislative Inspector General finding about wrongdoing involving a member of the General Assembly and the public has no idea who that legislator is. Illinois citizens deserve to know about legislator misconduct, especially now when legislators are potentially filing to run for re-election. There should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying of staff and conflicts of interest.

At the very least, Leader Durkin should join me in demanding the immediate release of the misconduct report to the public and publicly ask his two leadership team members to support the immediate release of the buried report. A key question is whether any GOP member of the Legislative Ethics Commission received a campaign contribution from the legislator accused of misconduct.

We also need to determine if any of Jim Durkin’s political organizations received a contribution from that legislator. Unrelated secret payments to a Durkin campaign aide have already been reported by the media. If Republicans are going to criticize Democrats on ethics, we should first make sure we are consistent and are doing everything in our power to root out corruption and wrongdoing in our own ranks.

Under Durkin’s leadership, there have been high-profile scandals involving multiple GOP House members. We need a full independent investigation of Durkin’s operation exactly in the same way as Maggie Hickey thoroughly investigated the House Democratic operation. Democrats did the right thing in hiring Hickey. Republicans should follow their lead and hire Hickey to do a full independent investigation.

Durkin did hire a firm (Alvarez & Marsal) to make recommendations about sexual harassment procedures, but the firm did not complete the full independent investigation that we desperately need.

Let me repeat – there has been no independent investigation of Durkin’s operation. The fact that House Republican Leader Jim Durkin refuses to hire respected Maggie Hickey to do a full investigation that will be available to the public is evidence enough of the need for this badly needed independent investigation.

Furthermore, the more vocal I have been about the need for an independent investigation, the more actions Leader Durkin has taken to take away caucus resources from me such as legislative staff and analysis. As a whistleblower, I will never back down and Durkin’s actions are a clear indication that he very likely has something to hide.

Transparency is the key to ending corruption in Illinois. I hope that Leader Durkin will finally join me in coming clean and telling Illinois citizens what he knows about the buried Porter report and it is my sincere hope he will take the bold step to doing what the Democrats have already done – hire Maggie Hickey to do a full investigation of the Durkin House operation. We will then be able to answer the question: What did Jim Durkin know and when did he know it?

• State Rep. David McSweeney is a Republican from Barrington Hills.

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