Name: Kwame Raoul
Town of residence: Chicago
Office sought: Attorney General
1. Attorney General Lisa Madigan created a public access counselor unit of the office to help people obtain public documents and access public meetings. Will the public access counselor continue to operate under your administration? Do you foresee changes to the system?
Having sponsored the legislation that created the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s Office, I plan to not only keep this critical division in operation, but properly resource the office so as to eliminate the backlog of FOIA and Open Meetings Act complaints. Long delays in responding to such complaints from the public and the media defeat the purpose of having a dedicated Public Access Counselor and frustrate the intent of the legislation: to improve the transparency of government and allow sunshine to deter corruption.
As a state senator, I have advocated for these resources as part of budget negotiations. I have also worked on legislation that would prioritize any appeals to the Public Access Counselor regarding public corruption or police misconduct, to ensure public information is available in a timely fashion on these critical issues. As Justice Brandeis wisely wrote, sunshine is the best disinfectant.
2. Are there flaws in the state's Freedom of Information Act and/or Open Meetings Act that you would make it a priority to address?
I am always willing to explore avenues for improving government transparency and public access to information. When units of government and public officials make decisions on behalf of their constituents and using taxpayer money, our system of government demands they not do so in darkness.
As the sponsor of the last major reform of the Freedom of Information Act, I realize that the FOIA law can quickly become stale. We must remain vigilant and update the law as needed in orderáto keep pace with the changing times. I would propose further strengthening the Attorney General’s Office of the Public Access Counselor. One potential change would expand the PAC’s authority to any appeal related to the legislative branch, as such appeals must now be decided by the court system.
3. How will your office go after corruption in Illinois?
Historically, federal prosecutors and to some extent local prosecutors have played a more direct role in pursuing public corruption cases not only because of access to grand jury powers, but also because of access to investigators and prosecutors – critical resources – to effectively handle these complex and important cases. The expansion of the grand jury power is worthy of exploration to the extent that the governor and the General Assembly are prepared to appropriately resource the Office of the Attorney General to exercise this new capacity, as discussed below. Regardless of the capacity in which my office is involved, I will always follow where the facts lead, regardless of political party, to protect the public trust.
4. What reforms, if any, do believe are needed in the state’s criminal justice system?
I have made criminal justice reform a touchstone of my legislative career. Legislation I have sponsored has addressed exoneration, expungement and sealing, moving juveniles out of adult prisons, alternatives to incarceration for non-violent and first-time offenders, sentencing reform, and employment opportunities for those with criminal records. I sponsored the creation of the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, to give those convicted based on confessions obtained through torture a second chance at justice. I passed legislation mandating investigation of all police-involved shootings. I served on the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council and the Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. Over the years, I have built valuable relationships with public officials and organizations working on criminal justice reform, and I have persuaded many of my colleagues in the General Assembly to join the effort. I can use these relationships as attorney general to work effectively for further progress toward common-sense criminal justice reform initiatives.
My objectives are to continue developing Illinois’ alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-risk offenders and enforce the law on sealing and expungement of records (especially for juvenile ex-offenders and arrestees). Throughout the justice and correctional systems, I will advocate for the use of risk-based assessment tools to aid in matching people involved in the system with the programs and services that will best help them reintegrate into society and avoid recidivism.
Evidence tells us that untreated trauma feeds the cycle of violent crime when violence becomes normalized in a community and victims are disproportionately likely to become the next perpetrators. I will work to expand the trauma center pilot program I sponsored while in the Senate. I will also ensure that crime victim assistance funds are distributed fairly, to target the populations and communities most profoundly affected by violent crime.
5. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform’s 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey ranked Illinois as among the worst states in the country. How would you work to change this as attorney general?
As attorney general, I will advocate for practices that prevent the occurrences that lead to lawsuits in the first place – environmental abuses, harmful activities in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, workplace incidents and so on. It is important to create a climate where safety comes first. In particular, I would focus on making sure state agencies that interact with the public have procedures in place to avoid harm to members of the public, such that their conduct does not lead to causes of action.
6. Should marijuana be legalized for recreational use in Illinois? If so, how? If not, why not?
I support legalization as long as we proceed carefully, learning from the lessons of other states in order to regulate it in a way that protects public safety, especially where children could be affected. Illinois has already moved in the direction of legalization through its successful medical cannabis pilot program. I supported the legislation that created this program, as well as its expansion to give more patients the option of trying cannabis instead of opioids to treat their symptoms. We have also moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts for personal use – another step I supported.
The logical extension of these policies is to move toward legalization in a manner that appropriately regulates the manufacture and distribution of marijuana while taxing it to capture the new economic activity that would accompany recreational use.
7. How will your office fight pollution in Illinois?
The attorney general must be an active advocate in order to protect the people of Illinois from environmental threats to their health and wellbeing. I was in Willowbrook recently, and residents there told me about their struggle to protect themselves and their families against a carcinogenic gas released by a local industrial facility. The state Environmental Protection Agency did not turn records on this matter over to the attorney general in a timely fashion, leaving these families awaiting a resolution to the health threat in their backyard. This delay and lack of transparency was unconscionable. The attorney general is now working with the state and federal governments to quickly investigate the situation, and if I step into that role, I will continue to be active in advocating for those affected by pollution.
The role of state attorney general has taken on heightened importance today. Under the Trump administration, federal executive branch agencies have willfully abdicated their responsibility for environmental protection and land conservation. As a result, it is incumbent upon state attorneys general not only to enforce their own states’ environmental laws fairly and robustly, but to step into the gap left by the federal government to safeguard land, air and water - and the public health.
I will continue the current attorney general’s practice of working with other states’ attorneys generals whenever appropriate to take actions against the federal government for the short-term and long-term health of their states – for example, regarding the permitting of the Foxconn site near the Illinois border, despite a documented air quality concern – and to seek the assistance of the federal judiciary in returning us to the rule of law in areas where the current administration is ignoring it.
8. What are your priorities for consumer protection?
Current Attorney General Lisa Madigan has done a tremendous job of using the powers of her office to protect consumers against fraud, deception and other corporate misconduct, taking for-profit colleges, payday lenders, student loan servicers and more to court. I will continue to aggressively pursue these cases and look for additional opportunities to protect consumers from scams and unsafe products, partnering with other state attorneys general when doing so would be advantageous to the people of Illinois. Where the federal government has stepped back – for example, in defending defrauded student loan borrowers and enforcing quality standards for nursing homes – I will step up and ensure Illinoisans are protected.
I will also continue, in my capacity as an advocate, the work I have done in the General Assembly to update consumer protection laws to keep pace with changing technology. As a senator, I supported the Biometric Information Protection Act and stricter disclosure requirements for companies whose customers’ information is exposed by a data breach. I also sponsored the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, which, if it becomes law, would prohibit the wide variety of “smart” devices, appliances and even toys being offered today from recording audio without the consumer’s consent. We need to ensure that data these products – especially those marketed to children – are storing is not misused or vulnerable to a breach.
9. What would be your approach to immigration enforcement and public awareness?
As the son of Haitian immigrants, I am sensitive to the mistreatment of immigrants, particularly “Dreamers” and those fleeing oppression, who are making a contribution to our society and economy. I agree with the current attorney general’s decision to stand up for local governments that are essentially being bullied by the federal government for directing their law enforcement agencies not to act beyond their training and resources by becoming involved with immigration enforcement. Law enforcement should be engaged in building trust within the communities they serve in order to more effectively prevent and solve crimes.
The current administration has acted with shocking insensitivity to the humanity of immigrants by separating children from their families at the border and denying asylum to victims of domestic violence. I will lend my voice against the administration’s approach on this issue, which threatens the rule of law as it has swept up even permanent legal residents and U.S. citizens in its overreach. I have supported legislation protecting immigrants’ access to schools, hospitals and courts, as well as a bill prohibiting housing discrimination based on immigration status, and as attorney general, I will continue to advocate for fair treatment of everyone living in Illinois. I will also use the position to ensure crime victims, regardless of immigration status or documentation, are given the assistance they need and their day in court.
Finally, I have been outspoken in my opposition to the proposed inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. This important public policy research tool should never be used as a means of intimidation.
10. How will your office work to protect senior citizens?
Consumer protection is one of the key functions of the attorney general’s office, and senior citizens can be particularly vulnerable to fraud and financial exploitation. I will build on the excellent work Attorney General Lisa Madigan has done in this area.
My office will also fight for senior citizens when their civil rights are at stake. Age discrimination in the workplace, housing rights and the rights of seniors with disabilities are all areas in which I will aggressively investigate and, when appropriate, prosecute complaints.
The federal government has recently stepped back from protecting seniors who reside in nursing homes by weakening the enforcement of quality standards. I will step up and go after nursing homes where residents are exploited, abused or neglected.
As healthcare costs continue to rise, seniors on fixed incomes can be forced to make difficult choices. As a state senator, I co-sponsored legislation requiring drug companies to give patients adequate notice when their prescribed medication will no longer be covered, so they can consult with a provider and make alternate arrangements instead of being surprised at the pharmacy counter. I will stand up to pharmaceutical price gouging and go to court if necessary to protect seniors’ pocketbooks and access to the medications they need. I will also work with authorities at all levels to pursue Medicare fraudsters who prey on seniors and will maintain the current attorney general’s commitment to educating older Illinoisans on recognizing and avoiding scams.