Your tax dollars in lobbyists’ hands (Editorial)

October 26, 2010

By Daily Herald Editorial Board
The idea of publicly funded agencies spending tax dollars to hire lobbyists to try to get more tax dollars is a circular way of doing government business that seems designed to exasperate and confuse taxpayers.

That’s how the RTA and its flock of transit agencies operate, paying $12.8 million to lobbyists over the past six years. Sometimes, different agencies under the RTA umbrella Metra, Pace and the CTA pay the same lobbyist to push agendas that may be at odds, as Daily Herald staff writer Marni Pyke pointed out in a recent series. Other government agencies do the same.

The practice brings plenty of questions to mind, especially when the lobbyists paid by the transit agencies turned around and spent $1.8 million to help fund Illinois political campaigns.

But the big problem comes when neither the lobbyists nor the public agencies that hire them will disclose what, exactly, they do to justify their taxpayer-funded million-dollar fees.

Neither Metra (which spent $5.4 million on lobbying since 2004) nor the CTA ($4.3 million) will give the public access to progress reports they’ve received from their lobbyists, saying the reports fall under the heading of attorney-client privilege and don’t have to be disclosed. Never mind that the taxpayers are the real clients.