The reform package will be introduced just months after former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson was forced to resign after being convicted of cheating on his taxes and lying to federal regulators.
Two current aldermen, Ed Burke, 14th, and Carrie Austin, 34th, have been indicted on corruption charges. Both have denied wrongdoing.
And just this week, the extensive cooperation of former aldermen turned government mole Danny Solis was praised by the U.S. attorney’s office for his role in a sprawling corruption investigation, including wearing a wire in conversations with Burke that led to his indictment.
The deferred prosecution agreement in Solis’ bribery case was accepted by a judge, pushing his prosecution back three years—if it happens at all.
Smith said there is a “new mayor and new City Council” that is ready to implement the long-needed reforms.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who rode into office on a reform campaign message, did not work on the package, Smith said, but she expects the first-term mayor to lend her support.
Penalties for “substantive ethics ordinance violations” will shoot up to between $1,000 and $20,000. The previous cap was $5,000.
To expand the reach of the Board of Ethics, Smith says she’ll seek to boost its budget in 2023.
Former aldermen would lose the privilege of being able to lobby their former colleagues on the City Council floor, a practice Smith said is a “forever tradition we are ending.”
Aldermen recusing themselves from a matter before the City Council or a committee would be forced to physically leave the room during discussion of the issue. The range of what’s considered a conflict of interest would be expanded to include issues that involve the city official’s spouse or domestic partner.
A $1,500 campaign contribution cap from businesses that have contracts with the city would be extended to subcontracting companies receiving more than $10,000 from the larger city contract in a 12-month period.
The package will also include strict limits on gifts city employees may give to one another, including a $20 limit on typical gifts, like a “secret Santa” gift exchange, and a $250 limit for “very infrequently occurring situations like a wedding or childbirth.”
One reform that may appeal to all elected officials is an extension of the prohibition on using city property or resources, such as the city seal, for political purposes for candidates for office, not just the incumbents.
Smith said she hopes to “set new expectations for conduct of government officials in interactions of people with their government.”
Smith, who represents Lincoln Park and serves as chair of the Ethics Committee, said the reform package has been in the works since 2019 and is a collaboration between her office and Steve Berlin, executive director of the Board of Ethics, with an assist from the policy team at the Better Government Association.
“These are forceful reforms that would address conduct the board has seen over the past few years, expand the category of businesses subject to the campaign contribution limits, and significantly increase transparency regarding matters pending before the City Council,” the board’s chair, William Conlon, said in a news release.