Bribery charge leads to bipartisan calls for ethics reform
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House launched a formal process Tuesday that could lead to the ouster of embattled Rep. Luis Arroyo, whose federal bribery charge has led to bipartisan calls for sweeping ethics reform in the Statehouse.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan announced that he had authorized a six-member investigative committee, made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, to look into the allegations against Arroyo. That committee is scheduled to have its first meeting Friday, most likely in Chicago, according to a Madigan spokesman.
Under House rules, if that committee recommends charges against Arroyo, then a second, 12-member disciplinary committee will be formed to determine if disciplinary action is warranted. That could involve censure, reprimand or expulsion from office.
It takes a three-fifths majority, or 71 votes in the House, to find a member “at fault” on a misconduct charge, according to the rules, and a two-thirds majority, or 79 votes, to expel a member.
Arroyo, D-Chicago, an assistant majority leader in the House, was charged in federal court Monday with one count of bribery for allegedly offering to pay a state senator $2,500 per month for six months to a year in exchange for the senator’s support of a bill that would authorize regulation and taxing of electronic sweepstakes machines, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
According to the affidavit, the senator was wearing a wire at the time. Although the document does not identify the senator, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, each quoting an unnamed source, have reported that it was Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, who chairs a subcommittee on gaming that was instrumental in pushing through a massive gambling expansion bill this year.
Link has reportedly denied that he was the unnamed senator. At the Statehouse on Tuesday, though, he avoided reporters on his way in and out of a committee meeting and did not return a phone message from Capitol News Illinois seeking comment.
The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that when Link left the committee meeting he said in response to reporters’ questions, “What’s their source? I said what’s their source? You answer me. I answered the question yesterday, I’m not going to continuously answer this every day of my life, I’m down here to do a job that I was elected to do and that’s what I’m going to do.”
In addition to his work as a legislator, Arroyo also operates a lobbying firm, Spartacus 3 LLC, which is a registered lobbyist with the city of Chicago. That firm represented a company, identified in the affidavit only as “Company B,” that had an interest in passing a sweepstakes ordinance in Chicago.
Electronic sweepstakes machines often look like video gambling machines. Because of a gap in existing state law, they are legal, but they are unregulated and pay no taxes.
The fact that Arroyo was working as a lobbyist outside the General Assembly prompted House Republicans to introduce a new bill Tuesday that would prohibit such activity.
“Currently we have a ban in place that members of the General Assembly can’t lobby the state,” Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, the assistant House minority leader, said during a news conference. “We should extend that ban to the remainder of the local government units in the state, certainly to avoid any appearance that a legislator here in Springfield is acting for any reason other than the good of their constituents and not because they have a paid lobbying contract for a unit of local government somewhere in Illinois.”
On Monday, a group of GOP House members called for the formation of a state ethics task force to recommend stronger safeguards in state government, and on Tuesday, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, issued a similar call, suggesting it should be a joint committee with the House and Senate.
“I went back and looked at what we did when (former Gov. Rod) Blagojevich was impeached,” he told reporters in the Statehouse. “We had a joint committee with the House and the Senate. And so I'm going to talk to the speaker about urging us to do that, again.”
Although House leaders are moving swiftly in an effort to expel Arroyo from the General Assembly following his indictment, Cullerton has taken no such action against another state senator who is also under indictment, Sen. Tom Cullerton, a distant cousin of the senate president and a Villa Park Democrat, who faces multiple charges of embezzlement.
Meanwhile another senator, Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, is also the apparent target of a federal investigation. Federal agents in September raided his Statehouse office, as well as his home and his district office in Cicero. Cullerton took no action against him either, although Sandoval, under pressure from Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, voluntarily stepped down from his chairmanship of the Senate Transportation Committee earlier this month.
“There's a whole bunch of different issues with regard to that,” Cullerton said in response to questions about the embattled senators. “There's issues dealing with whether or not the activity alleged is directly related to the Legislature, like taking a bribe to pass a bill or something like that, as opposed to something that's not related.”