Friday, August 12, 2005

Lobbyists Everywhere

The Center for Public Integrity recently released a national report on lobbyists. The report compares the 50 states for lobbyist spending, and many in Illinois have expressed surprise that our state is not in the top ten. In fact, Illinois may be in the Top Ten, but different states have different reporting requirements, making comparisons between states very difficult Lobbying in Illinois is just as much a big business as it is elsewhere. Lobbyist disclosure in Illinois, however, is abysmal.

Illinois requires lobbyists to report spending on meals and gifts to public officials and some travel expenses. That’s about all. Most other states and the federal government require lobbyists to disclose far more, including their total spending, total billing to clients, and spending on each issue they lobby. Illinois’ numbers may look low, but that has far more to do with what’s revealed than with what the true total spending for lobbying is in Illinois.

Recent changes in Illinois also worked to slash the numbers. The 2003 Ethics Act also barred lobbyists from serving on boards and commissions, leading many lobbyists to cancel their registration. The number of lobbyists fell in 2004, and reporting meal and gift expenses fell with it. Nor is there any enforcement mechanism to ensure that people who should register actually do. While the Secretary of State’s Index Department takes the paperwork, enforcement is ambiguous; theoretically, it would take a criminal complaint by a state’s attorney to compel filing by a recalcitrant lobbyist.

So worry not. Illinois is still Illinois. It's not that the numbers are low; it's that there are no numbers to count.

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