ICPR Finds Contract Lobbyists Were Paid $6 Million in Government Funds to Influence State Government

But Private Sector Spending on Lobbying Remains a Secret in Illinois

Local governments and public agencies spent more than $6 million to hire professional lobbyists to influence Illinois state government last year, according to a report released Tuesday by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).

The non-partisan organization calculated the price tag after analyzing FY2008 lobbying contracts awarded by 115 municipalities, transit agencies, public universities and other units of government which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

"Because Illinois has relatively weak laws to regulate lobbying activity and transparency, it’s impossible to know specifics about lobbyists’ work," said David Morrison, Deputy Director of ICPR and lead researcher and writer of the report. "Nor can the public know the cost of lobbying on behalf of private organizations that are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)."

There are more than 1,500 professional lobbyists paid to influence Illinois government. If it were not for FOIA, the public would have no idea how much money is involved. Most neighboring Midwestern states, and most large industrial states, provide the public with far more information about lobbying and lobbyists than does Illinois.

Morrison noted that the public knows even less about the tens of millions of dollars spent on lobbying by private special interest groups, such as corporations and labor unions, because their contracts are not public documents.

“There’s a lot of money flowing to lobbyists, private professionals who are paid to influence state policy,” Morrison said. “In most cases, we don’t know what these lobbyists are doing: who they’re talking to, what agenda items they’re pushing, and what they're trying to block.”

Illinois law requires lobbyists to disclose meals, gifts, and travel paid for by lobbyists. But what special interests pay lobbyists, and which clients are footing the bills for those meals, gifts, and travel, is a mystery.

Even worse, some of the lobbying firms hired by local governments did not comply with state ethics laws related to their work. Illinois law requires professional lobbyists to register with the Secretary of State and disclose their clients before performing work. ICPR found several who did not register themselves or their clients in a timely manner; some did not register themselves or their clients at all.

Morrison said ICPR’s analysis demonstrates the need for greater disclosure and more transparency as it relates to lobbying on the state level. He noted that the federal government, many other states and even Cook County and the City of Chicago have more comprehensive sunshine requirements for their lobbyists.

“Illinoisans are being kept in the dark about lobbying and how it affects their government,” Morrison said. “We need new laws mandating greater transparency so that the public can get a better handle on how their taxpayer dollars are being spent and how special interest groups are influencing their government.”

This is ICPR's second report on lobbying expenditures by units of governments. The report covering FY2007 found $5 million in spending. Among the 96 units of governments in both reports, total spending on lobbying grew 15% since last year.

The report recommends changes to Illinois' Lobbyist Registration Act, including:

• All lobbyists, whether representing a government or private entity, should be required to disclose the terms of lobbying contracts, including financial arrangements.
• Lobbyists hiring other lobbyists as subcontractors should disclose whether the subcontractors are lobbying for all or only some of the primary lobbyist’s clients.
• Units of government should be required to acknowledge that they have hired a lobbyist.
• There should be a "cooling-off period" between the time a government employee or official leaves public service and his or her engagement as a lobbyist targeting former colleagues.
• The Secretary of State should have the clear authority to audit lobbyist disclosure reports and punish violators.

Check out the full report here.

For additional information, please visit www.ilcampaign.org or call 312-335-1767.