Lawmakers pass ethics bill aimed at red light camera industry

Lawmakers pass ethics bill aimed at red light camera industry

With Springfield still in the middle of a sweeping federal corruption probe that most recently saw convictions in the “ComEd Four” trial, Illinois lawmakers, under pressure to act on ethics reform, passed a measure seeking to curb abuses tied to the red-light camera industry.

Under the bill now on Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk, companies that provide equipment or services for automated traffic law enforcement such as red-light cameras, automated speed enforcement, or automated railroad crossings are prohibited from making “a campaign contribution to any political committee established to promote the candidacy of a candidate or public official.”

The legislation, which was approved by the House 106-0 Thursday evening after earlier being passed without opposition by the Senate, also applies to large investors, high-level employees at the companies and their immediate family members as well as any political action committees created by the companies.

Additionally, county and local officials would be prohibited from going to work for or receiving compensation from red-light camera companies for two years after leaving office, which is much stronger than the six-month prohibition on state lawmakers becoming lobbyists that just took effect this year.

“Illinoisans deserve to be able to trust their elected officials aren’t being influenced by campaign contributions,” Democratic Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines who proposed the bill said in a statement. “Government officials should serve the people — not their own financial interests.”

Among those voting yes on the bill in the Senate was Chicago Democratic Sen. Emil Jones III, who last year was hit with federal bribery charges alleging he took $5,000 from a red-light camera company executive to kill legislation requiring traffic studies for automated camera systems, then lied to federal agents about it.

Jones has pleaded not guilty. He won reelection in November in an uncontested race.

In 2019, a federal raid on the statehouse office of Jones’ former Senate colleague, Chicago Democrat Martin Sandoval, led to Sandoval pleading guilty to a bribery charge and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. Sandoval died in late 2020 of COVID-19 complications.

The investigation also led to a prison sentence of more than five years for political operative Patrick Doherty, once chief of staff to Jeffrey Tobolski, a former Cook County commissioner and mayor of suburban McCook. Tobolski pleaded guilty to charges related to the probe, and other suburban mayors who’ve been convicted of related charges include Louis Presta of Crestwood and Tony Ragucci of Oakbrook Terrace.

If the measure is signed by Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Transportation would be able to revoke a county’s or municipality’s authorization for red-light cameras if a local official or employee is charged with bribery, official misconduct or similar crimes related to the placement of the cameras. Also, municipalities would no longer be allowed to outsource the issuance of citations to their camera system vendors.

Legislators faced calls to do something about ethics in light of the convictions earlier this month of former top Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists in a case tied to longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Madigan has pleaded not guilty in a separate racketeering case and is scheduled to go on trial in April.

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