by Brian Costin
Illinois is notorious for government corruption.
Since 1976, the state has had the third-highest amount of public corruption convictions in the country — including four out of the last seven governors.
Outside of Springfield, things aren’t much better. Chicago has been called “the most corrupt city in America.” A report by the University of Illinois-Chicago and the Better Government Association revealed that in the last 140 years, 150 top Cook County officials have been convicted in public corruption cases.
And Illinois’ corruption problem isn’t limited to the governor’s mansion, Cook County or the city of Chicago. In 2012, another public corruption case elicited headlines nationwide from a small town that was the boyhood home of former President Ronald Reagan.
In 2012, more than 100 miles to the west of Chicago, city of Dixon taxpayers were shocked by the arrest of longtime comptroller Rita Crundwell. The world-renowned quarter-horse breeder was sentenced to almost 20 years in jail for stealing $53.7 million from city coffers over a period of two decades.
According to the Northern District of Illinois United States Attorney’s Office her crime is the “largest theft of public funds in state history.”
With 6,968 local governments — more than 2,000 more local government agencies than any other state — it becomes increasingly difficult for the public to hold government officials accountable. Lots of local governments means lots of opportunities for corruption.
But Illinois does not have to be the national headquarters for public corruption.
One of the best protections against corruption is transparency, and in today’s digital age one of the easiest ways for government to be open and accountable is through posting public documents on the Internet.
Unfortunately, most Illinois counties need to dramatically improve when it comes to online transparency.
Last week we released “Obstructed views: Illinois’ 102 county online transparency audit,” which highlights the need for improvement.
Here are some key findings from the report:
- 22 out of 102 Illinois counties do not have a website
- 90 out of 102 county-level governments failed the 10-Point Transparency Checklist
- Only three counties scored a 90 percent or higher
- 12 counties violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to post a calendar, agendas prior to a meeting and minutes of meetings online
- 27 counties were in violation of the Freedom of Information Act by failing to post complete instructions on how to file a FOIA request
In four categories on the 10-Point Transparency Checklist (expenditures, compensation, contract and lobbying), more than 90 counties had failing grades
Every citizen deserves open government. Barriers to public participation have locked out citizens from participating in, or even knowing about, many important policy decisions.
We must continue to push for statewide transparency standards to empower citizens, media and government watchdogs to expose and ultimately prevent public corruption from occurring.
It’s time for Illinois to be recognized for something much more honorable than corrupt politicians.