Clarifying Statements (of Economic Interest)

The Trib reported over the weekend on income received by the former chair of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board from Bear Stearns, the company financing many of the deals before the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. The former Chair claimed that the payments were contractually due to him based on work he’d done over a decade ago, but the payments stopped as soon as the Trib started poking around (so much for the contract; seems they were contingent on something). The whole thing looks bad, and that’s what generates big splashy stories in the Sunday paper.

The Trib quoted me in the story; here’s the paragraph:

"This is a perfect example of why the law is inadequate," said David Morrison, deputy director of Campaign for Political Reform. " There ought to be an improvement so the public understands the difference between a $1 million interest and $1,000."

So, to clarify my comments, the “law” I was referring to is the law requiring Statements of Economic Interest. Statements required under state law are far less specific than those required of federal officeholders. The federal statements include a rough estimate of the value of holdings, which is why stories about federal officials will report they have interests worth between, say, $50,000 and $100,000. State forms require only that you list the name of an interest that is worth more than $5,000, or in some instances $1,200. The forms offer no way of determining the relative worth of different interests, no way of identifying the nature of the interest, and no real way of determining where conflicts of interest might lie.

That’s the point of requiring statements of economic interest. The vast majority of public officials in Illinois are part time. We expect that most elected officials will have conflicts of interest, and these statements are to help the public determine where those conflicts might lie; where, in short, our representatives might be most tempted to represent an interest other than ours.

Statements are now available on the web. But the still don’t tell you much about who filed them and where they may have conflicts, as this story makes clear.