Our View: Madigan public corruption charges demand Illinois reform now

When the feds’ legal anvil slammed down on former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan last week, the self-righteous indignation from his former colleagues condemning his alleged crimes was both swift and dramatic.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle took turns pounding on him and scurrying for distance from the politically toxic Chicago Democrat.

“This should be a wake-up call to everybody in public service that you better toe the line, you better do the right thing,” Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said. “You better stand up for the people that you represent and not try to line your own pockets.”

Please, spare us. We’ve seen this movie before.

In case you missed it, the 79-year-old former head of the Illinois Democratic Party was hit with a 22-count indictment charging him with bribery and racketeering. Madigan denies the allegations.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called it possibly “the darkest day in Illinois government history.” Holding the 106-page indictment, Durkin warned of “House Democrats who spent years benefiting from Mike Madigan’s power and spoke out only when it was politically advantageous. Be wary of them.”

He’s right.

Of course, public corruption has a history of being bipartisan in Illinois. Be wary of them all.

The list of Illinois politicians who have been caught up in ethical or criminal scandals is long and distinguished. It keeps growing.

“As I’ve said before, we have a very stubborn public corruption problem here in Illinois,” John Lausch Jr., U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said in announcing the charges against Madigan.

No kidding.

Pritzker was correct in saying that the very fact that Madigan is being held accountable now is proof that the system is working. That’s true to an extent.

But how many more are getting away with it?

No matter how far our elected leaders sink – the depths are boundless – our reforms never seem to go far enough. So, now what?

While the Madigan charges represent another shameful chapter in Illinois’ long book of public corruption, it was hardly a surprise. There was plenty of time for lawmakers – if they truly wanted to do something – to build consensus on sweeping change.

Illinois lawmakers passed ethics reforms last year. By most accounts, however, they’re mere plugs in a sinking ship.

It’s time to do something. For real, this time.

Spend some political capital on it. Talk about it. Do something.

We do have champions of good government both in the legislature and out. Too often, they’ve been ignored. It’s time to start listening to them.

Enact stricter rules on lobbyists. Crack down on lawmakers’ conflicts of interest. Strengthen the legislative inspector general’s office.

It’s also time to close some of the many loopholes in Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act. Far too many local leaders seem ignorant of the law — or willing to make it up as they go. More transparency is needed. While we’re at it, let’s close the General Assembly’s exemption.

With Madigan’s help, the governor was able to push through the legalization of marijuana and expanded gambling. Now, it’s time lawmakers make stronger ethics laws a priority.

No more half-steps. You’re either with us or you’re against us.

Perhaps, this being an election year and all, spines will stiffen and we can get some more significant ethics laws. We’re not holding our breath.