Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Unguarded Henhouse

The thing with lobbyist regulation is, it’s not that the fox is guarding the henhouse, it’s that nobody is guarding the henhouse. Lobbyist reform is still percolating at the federal level, but here in Illinois, it’s just beginning to boil. First there were reports that gubernatorial confidante John Wyma was helping a ton of clients snag state funds. Then came word that Doug Scofield was lobbying for private interests while serving as the governor’s spokesperson. Now we learn that former Illinois EPA Director Renee Cipriano has gone to work for Ameren, a downstate utility company whose plants were regulated by the Illinois EPA.

The 2003 Ethics Act included specific language to bar this kind of relationship. The provision (Section 5-45 of the Act) initially covered only state employees who negotiated contracts with private vendors. Then Phil Parenti announced he was quitting as head of the Gaming Commission to go work for Harrah’s. Section 5-45 was still in negotiations then, and all agreed to add paragraph B in order to prohibit agency heads and others with regulatory authority from going over to the other side quite so quickly.

The provision covers any “former officer of the executive branch or State employee of the executive branch with regulatory or licensing authority” and it prohibits them to “knowingly accept employment or receive compensation of fees for services from a person or entity” if they regulated that entity. The language is plain and the intent was to deal with a situation like Parenti’s. And Cipriano’s, too.

If the revolving door provision has any meaning, then Renee Cipriano ought to be explaining her actions to the Ethics Commission. Otherwise, the framers of that provision have some explaining of their own to do.

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