- Published: Wednesday, March 01, 2017 05:30 PM
Cabinet-level appointees of the governor would be barred from using their official positions to campaign for candidates or influence elections under a commonsense ethics measure proposed by Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill).
Senate Bill 942 advanced out of the Senate Executive Committee Wednesday in a 14-0 vote.
The legislation is modeled after ethics guidelines for federal employees and seeks to strengthen the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act by restricting the political activity of gubernatorial appointees, such as agency directors and assistant directors.
“We should be able to trust the governor to appoint professional managers who are focused on running state agencies, not on using their credentials to campaign for political candidates and sway elections,” Manar said. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen through the decades with governors and appointees of both political parties, that’s not always the case. The solution lies in strengthening our ethics law.”
Manar introduced similar legislation late in the previous legislative session, but it did not advance out of committee. It was prompted by the appearance of state agency directors – including lawmakers who were appointed to cabinet-level positions by Gov. Bruce Rauner – in campaign ads endorsing specific candidates and criticizing challengers.
“If agency directors want to volunteer for campaigns or knock on doors for a candidate, that’s fine as long as they do so as private citizens,” Manar said. “But when they use their titles or their uniforms or their credentials as paid government employees to influence an election, that’s where they may be crossing an ethical line.”
Federal law known as the Hatch Act has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional and prevents executive branch employees from participating in certain political activity to maintain a workforce free from partisan political influence or coercion.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 43 states have enacted laws – sometimes “Little Hatch Acts” – that restrict political activity of government employees. Ten states prohibit at least some government employees from using their official authority to influence an election, and three bar any active participation in political campaigns.
Violations of the ethics act under Senate Bill 942 could result in fines of up to $5,000.