Illinois lawmakers returned to Springfield on Monday for the start of the fall veto session.
But any new legislation could be overshadowed by a bribery charge filed against Democratic state Rep. Luis Arroyo. The charge comes amid an ongoing federal corruption probe targeting other Democratic lawmakers in the state.
Arroyo had clearly planned to be in Springfield on Monday.
According to the 13-page federal complaint that spells out his role in an alleged bribery scheme, he planned on moving legislation favored by the sweepstakes industry at the time.
“When a veto session comes up, we’ll start working on it,” Arroyo is recorded saying in a conversation with an unnamed state senator who secretly cooperated with federal agents.
Arroyo, who was getting paid $2,500 to lobby city of Chicago officials in favor of the video poker-esque sweepstakes machines, is said to have in August arranged for the senator to be paid $2,500 a month in exchange for sponsoring the measure.
“What’s in it for me?” the senator, listed only as CW-1 (a term often used to stand for “cooperating witness”), asked during one of their meetings.
“If you put a price on it, I mean, if you want to get paid, you want somebody else to get a check monthly, a monthly stipend, we could put them on contract. We could put you on a contract. You tell me what it is. Tell me what you need,” Arroyo answered, later adding, “If I’m doin’ okay, you’re gonna do okay.”
The news led to bipartisan calls for Arroyo’s resignation, and cast a pallor of unease over the legislative proceedings, as lobbyists and lawmakers speculated who among them has been wiretapping conversations on behalf of federal agents.
The criminal complaint offers clues: The senator and Arroyo met in Highland Park, the senator spoke about being in the “twilight” of his career.
The Sun-Times reports CW-1 is Democratic Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, the sponsor of the massive gambling expansion passed in the spring. Link has denied it to reporters and through a spokesman.
According to a footnote in the complaint, the senator had worked with the FBI in 2016, only to have that tie severed when authorities found fraudulent tax filings. The senator is working with the feds again in hopes of a better deal should he be charged for tax fraud.
By Monday evening, House Republicans had filed a petition for the chamber to formally investigate the allegations.
“It’s for the public’s trust. I think sitting back and saying we’ll wait to see what a judge and a jury will do down the road is not sufficient,” House GOP Leader Jim Durkin said.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has until now supported Arroyo by appointing him to leadership positions, issued a statement Monday calling for Arroyo to resign.
Madigan himself was named in a federal subpoena executed on the City Club of Chicago in mid-May.
“I’m not a target of anything,” Madigan said in response to reporters’ questions during a rare, brief press scrum.
The charge against Arroyo is the latest in a string of a snowballing federal probe that saw raids of Democratic Sen. Marty Sandoval’s offices and home in September as well as that of several south suburban Democratic officials. State Sen. Tom Cullerton has pleaded not guilty to embezzlement.
There’s also Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, whose wife, Justice Anne Burke, on Monday officially began her duties as chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Already, the corruption investigation – which also appears to be aimed at utility giant ComEd – has hindered energy advocates’ attempts to pass a renewable energy package during the veto session.
Should gambling become a focus, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot could also see her hopes dashed for lawmakers retooling the tax structure for a Chicago casino.
“I think this is going to give people in the chamber pause to do anything of a significant nature,” Durkin said.
Still, with the General Assembly at the capitol, there will be a need to keep busy with activities beyond speculating about the feds.
Vaping restrictions, local pension fund consolidation, and cracking down on factories that emit ethylene oxide are all on the agenda.
Prior to the Arroyo news, Gov. J.B. Pritkzer on Monday held a press conference to announce his support for allowing college athletes to sign endorsement deals and to receive compensation for the use of their likeness.
“Their images belong to them, and if somebody is earning dollars on that, the student athletes themselves should be the ones,” he said.
Pritzker said he wants to be a leader in hopes that the NCAA and federal government will take notice and follow suit.
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