CHICAGO AREA MASS TRANSIT AGENCIES HIRED 14 LOBBYING FIRMS AT COST OF NEARLY $700,000
Local governments and public agencies in Illinois spent more than $5 million to contract with lobbyists last fiscal year, according to “Governments Lobbying State Government,” a study by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR).
In a first-of-its-kind research, ICPR identified 110 units of government with contract lobbyists and 65 lobbying firms working for government bodies in Fiscal Year 2007. Several of the governments hired multiple firms to provide advice and to attempt to influence decisions by the governor, state legislators and other state government officials.
“This $5 million of public funds is significant, but it is a small portion of the tens of millions of dollars spent on lobbying by hundreds of corporations, labor unions and other special interest groups represented by lobbyists in Springfield,” said Cynthia Canary, Director ICPR. “What the public doesn’t know is what special interests in the private sector are spending to try to pass or kill legislation and to impact actions in the executive branch.
“Through the Freedom of Information Act and the cooperation of dozens of public officials, we were able to research public spending on lobbying,” Canary said. “But a change in state law is needed to mandate similar disclosure by the private sector.”
The complete text of “Governments Lobbying State Government” is available at www.ilcampaign.org.
“The federal government and several other states require more public disclosure of private sector lobbying expenditures, but Illinois lobbying laws require far less disclosure,” said David Morrison, Deputy Director of ICPR and the lead researcher and writer of this study. “Some local governments, including Cook County and the City of Chicago, require more public disclosure about financial arrangements of lobbyists of local governments than the state requires of state-regulated lobbyists."
Some of the findings included:
• In the midst of legislative debates on mass transit reform and funding, the Chicago region’s four mass transit agencies had combined spending of nearly $700,000 with 14 different lobbying firms.
• The $223,600 devoted to four lobbying contracts by the Regional Transportation Authority was the highest of all government bodies surveyed. The Chicago Transit Authority was a close second, spending $220,173 with four lobbying firms.
• Municipal governments make up the largest segment of the government bodies with lobbyists on contract. The 43 municipal governments with lobbyists range in size from the City of Chicago (population 2,869,121 with lobbying contract payments of $127,257) to the Village of Cordova (population 651 in Rock Island County with $7,500 paid to a lobbying firm).
• Fees paid by governments to lobbyists were wide ranging. Monthly fees ran from a low of $750 to a high of $12,500. Typical payments were from $1,500 to $3,000 per month.
• There were several inconsistencies between information provided by local government bodies and lobbyist disclosure reports filed with the Secretary of State. Some governments reported having lobbyists, but the lobbyists did not report the governments as clients. Several lobbyists filed state disclosure reports listing local governments as their lobbying clients, but some of the units of government denied having any relationship with the lobbyist.
• The practice of a lobbying firm hiring other lobbying firms as subcontractors clouds the transparency of lobbyist disclosure requirements. This practice, which also is prevalent with lobbying on behalf of private sector clients, makes it difficult to discern who is lobbying for whom.
“Cities of all sizes, transit agencies, school districts and many other local governments have turned to professional lobbyists for a variety of reasons,” Canary said. “ICPR leaves it to local taxpayers to determine whether the lobbying services were necessary and whether the fees paid to lobbyists were fair.”
“Government Lobbying State Government” includes the following recommendations to strengthen the Illinois Lobbyist Registration Act:
• All lobbyists, whether representing a government or private entity, should be required to disclose the terms of lobbying contracts, including financial arrangements.
• All organizations lobbying state governments should disclose expenses related to lobbying, including salaries of in-house lobbyists and other administrative expenses.
• Lobbyists hiring other lobbyists as subcontractors should disclose whether the subcontractors are lobbying for all or only some of the main lobbyist’s clients. The entity hiring the main lobbying firm also should report representation by any subcontractor.
• Instead of acting primarily as the keeper of lobbyist records, the Office of the Secretary of State should be given the responsibility to enforce lobbyist disclosure laws. The Secretary of State should have the clear authority to audit lobbyist disclosure reports and punish violators.
• There should be a cooling off period between the time a government employee or official leaves public service and when that former employee or official is allowed to lobby his or her former colleagues.