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Lt. Governor Simon: State’s Ethics Form is ‘Weak’


CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–April 21, 2011. A day after yet another Illinois governor went on trial for corruption charges, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon urged lawmakers to strengthen existing ethics laws, saying current economic disclosures are weak.

Lt. Governor Simon fulfilled her promises to make public her annual tax returns and provide groundbreaking financial information on her senior staff members. Releasing the information empowers taxpayers by revealing any potential conflicts of interest that Simon, or her staff, face in shaping and implementing public policies.

“Government works best in the sunlight, so we’re starting by shining the light on ourselves,” said Simon, who served on the Illinois Reform Commission. “The economic disclosures currently required by law are weak, reveal very little about any potential conflicts of interest and are practically meaningless to the people we serve. By taking this first step, I encourage other public servants to follow our lead and build a foundation for statewide reform.”

Simon plans to ask lawmakers to scrap the current Statements of Economic Interest (SEI) that constitutional officers, elected officials and high-ranking public employees are required to file on an annual basis. The forms are supposed to expose existing or potential conflicts of interest, but the documents use such vague and cumbersome language that the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has called them “woefully inadequate” and “a waste of paper.”

Simon and her staff’s financial disclosures, released shortly after tax day and available on the lieutenant governor’s website, cover some of the same information in the SEIs, but the Simon staff disclosures do so in plain language and in greater detail. Simon’s staff disclosures are modeled after forms used by federal executive officers and their high-ranking employees that are kept confidential.

“Lt. Governor Simon is reforming the system from within, and we hope her transparency is contagious,” said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “She is setting a new standard of accountability and ethical leadership in state government.”

More than 25,000 elected officials and public employees in Chicago and suburban Cook County file annually with Clerk David Orr’s office. Orr applauded Simon for tackling this inadequate method for reporting conflicts of interest.

“The SEI questions are virtually incomprehensible, so the vast majority of people return blank forms,” Orr said. “Revising the disclosure requirements will paint a more-detailed portrait of public officials’ true conflicts of interest.”

Simon’s 2011 tax returns, and a personal financial statement that she first released in January, show all of her sources of income, assets, liabilities and net worth. Her household reported income of approximately $110,000 last year, donated nearly $2,000 to charity and paid $14,000 in state and federal taxes.

The staff disclosures note all forms of income greater than $200, investment portfolios and sweetheart loans, among other details.

“The current state financial disclosure document is flawed by asking questions in ways that fail to identify people’s true economic interests,” Simon said. “Our disclosures ask useful questions and generate useful answers that will allow us to identify and avoid conflicts to make sure we do what’s right for our constituents.”

2010 Senior Staff Financial Disclosures

Source: illinois.gov

 


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