Columns | Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: Ethics reform advocates will seize on new bribery allegations

State Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, faces criminal charges in federal court accusing him of taking bribes in exchange for backing legislation favorable to a red light camera vendor.

In 2019, according to Capitol News Illinois, Jones introduced a bill to open a statewide study of the cameras. He later agreed to limit the scope to Chicago. The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Jones sought and accepted a $5,000 payment for his effort, as well as money and a job for an associate. The feds also say Jones lied to them during their investigation. The bill never made it to the full Senate.

Senate President Don Harmon, of Oak Park, demanded and accepted Jones’ resignation from his post as deputy majority leader and Committee on Licensed Activities chairman, which cuts Jones’ legislative paycheck. His status for November’s election remains unclear.

Scott T. Holland

Republicans obviously seized on the news.

“Democrats have refused for years to allow our anti-corruption proposals to move forward,” said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods. “If the Democrats won’t allow us to do the right thing, it’s time for voters to step in and make the change this November.”

His House colleague Jim Durkin, Western Springs, pulled fewer punches:

“The Democrat Party of Illinois has become an organized crime family whose only purpose is to shake down Illinois taxpayers. Today’s indictment once again shows Illinois residents why Democrats refuse to pass real ethics reform; they are too corrupt.”

If Jones took the bribes, he can’t claim ignorance. He’s one of too many lawmakers essentially bequeathed a seat from a retiring relative, a process I’ve long called for eliminating, but stopping appointments doesn’t inherently impede corruption.

The initial GOP statements lack the context explaining how the party’s approach might’ve yielded a different outcome. After all, Jones is accused of committing federal crimes, the guardrails were already in place.

In May 2021, McConchie and other Senate Republicans had a press conference to promote their legislation (Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 1350), part of which would essentially give the state attorney general investigative power akin to the FBI and expand the use of a statewide grand jury to probe public corruption. They also wanted to give state’s attorneys power to use wiretapping technology while looking into elected officials, a power the GOP says they have only for gun, gang and drug crimes.

These are assuredly good ideas. The FBI has a commendable track record of prosecuting Illinois political crime, but there’s no strong argument for handcuffing local authorities.

Jones allegedly took very little and delivered nothing valuable in return. That likely sad end to a young career gives reformers a textbook example for arguing the value of their ideas.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at