Monday, March 30, 2009

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.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Mexico Sends Contribution Limits Measure to Governor

Bill Richardson Expected to Sign
Soon only 4 States will have Wide-Open Campaign Finance System
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Late last Friday, the New Mexico House of Representative gave final approval to a bill to create a system of campaign contribution limits. The proposal would prohibit donations to statewide candidates in excess of $5,000 per election from individuals and $10,000 from political committees. Non—statewide candidates would be barred from receiving more than $2,300 per election from individuals and $5,000 from committees.

The measure was filed at the behest of Gov. Bill Richardson, who has indicated that he will sign it.

New Mexico is currently one of only 5 states with no limits at all on campaign donations; Illinois is another. Contribution limits proposal are pending in the Illinois General Assembly: HB 24, SB 1768 and SB 1604. Call your legislator to tell them you don’t want to have to move to New Mexico to find legislators willing to tackle this problem. Call 800-719-3020 today and call for change.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ASK LEGISLATORS TO LIMIT CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTONS

DIAL 1-800-719-3020

The CHANGE Illinois coalition on Monday opened a toll-free hotline for Illinoisans to call 1-800-719-3020 and tell their legislators to enact campaign contribution limits.

Callers to the CHANGE Illinois Hotline will be connected directly to their state legislators.

“Large campaign contributions in Illinois are muting the voice of the public and preventing real progress on the issues that matter,” said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois Senior State Director. “Enough is enough – we need campaign contribution limits now. The people deserve to get their voice back.”

AARP is reaching out to its nearly 2 million members across Illinois asking them to call the hotline and urge their legislators to stop the flow of special interest money into Springfield. The number also will be featured in an upcoming article in the AARP Bulletin publication which is sent to all AARP members in the state.

Launched in late February, CHANGE Illinois is a coalition of civic, business, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations aligned to bring government integrity to Illinois. The coalition includes many civic leaders and organizations, including AARP, the Chicago Urban League, The Civic Federation, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and the Latino Policy Forum.

“Removing one person from office does not solve the problem,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “Unlimited campaign contributions have led to wasteful spending, altered the power structure and distorted the debate of issues in Springfield.”

Canary pointed out that the federal election system limits contributions to candidates and 45 other states have laws limiting contributions.

“Limiting contributions is not all that is needed to make our government fair and honest, but it is a very important step,” Canary said. “Contribution limits will help make state government more representative of Illinoisans and more responsive to all citizens.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform -- Really

Not one, not two, but three different Chicago newspapers ran opinion pieces recently in favor of campaign finance reform, joining a growing chorus in support of fixing our broken political system.

Crain's took a look at "the corruption that has come to define Illinois" and concluded, "Illinois can reclaim its dignity by curbing the flow of campaign cash that pollutes our politics and government."

The Sun-Times wrote, "with our state in post-impeachment crisis, now is the time for Springfield lawmakers to enact meaningful campaign contribution limits." The Sun-Times also observed, "In theory, public disclosure … discourages dirty dealings. In practice, we've seen how well that has worked."

And in the Tribune, former First Chicago NBD CEO Richard Thomas noted, "illegal practices that are discouraged abroad are tolerated here in Illinois." And he argued "placing limits on campaign contributions would be a good place to start."

Support for campaign finance reform is growing outside of the Capitol. Former Executive Ethics Commission Chairman Scott Turow recently told the legislative Joint Committee on Government Reform, in a hearing on transparency, that he believes that campaign finance reform is "indispensable," even asserting, "our state will continue to be perceived as an ethical swamp, both in Illinois and outside of it, unless we prohibit unlimited campaign donations." A broad coalition of business, civic, and non-profit groups, including ICPR, recently formed, calling itself CHANGE Illinois.

To date, 20 House members have signed on as sponsors of HB 24, a measure to reform campaign finance. Similar legislation in the Senate, SB 1768, has a smaller but growing list of sponsors.

Legislators need to hear your voices. Contact your House and Senate members and tell them what you think of our current political crisis. Now is the time for people to speak up.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

March Forth

Today is March Fourth, one of my favorite days of the year, the only day that is also a verb. And in that spirit, we offer the following advice for Illinoisans who are tired of business as usual in state government. The State Journal-Register editorialized over the weekend on the prospects for reform, noting, "Never has there been a more fertile time for political reform in Illinois government." The good news is that legislators are lining up to tout their support for reform bills. The bad news? It's March, not May, and nothing has passed yet. Reform is possible, and maybe even more likely now than usual, but mark our words -- nothing will happen unless voters demand it.

If you believe in reform and you have not yet called your legislators to tell them to support campaign reform, then pick up the phone already. Now is the time. And there are many, many opportunities in the coming weeks for you to make your views known. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Attend a hearing. Join a coalition. Do all these things. But do it now. Here's how to get involved:


* The SJ-R editorial offers advice on how to contact your public officials, including this information for the legislative leaders.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago
327 Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
782-2728
john@senatorcullerton.com
www.senatorcullerton.com

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago
300 Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
782-5350

House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego
316 Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
782-1331
tom@tomcross.com
www.tomcross.com

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont
309A Capitol Building
Springfield, IL 62706
782-9407
cradogno@sbcglobal.net
www.senatorradogno.org

* Join a Coalition
Civic, non-profit and business leaders came together last week to announce a new reform coalition, CHANGE Illinois. The group, which includes ICPR, has launched a new website, www.changeil.org. Co-chairs include former DEA Administrator Peter Bensinger, Woods Fund President Deborah Harrington, and Chicago Metropolis 20/20 CEO George Ranney. At the launch, the group called for campaign contribution limits and more powers and resources for the State Board of Elections. To get involved, please visit their website.


* Attend a hearing
The legislative Joint Committee on Government Reform has cancelled tomorrow's hearing on Outside Influences on Government. But there remain hearings of the Joint Committee (PDF) and Gov. Quinn's Illinois Reform Commission in the weeks to come. All of these meetings are open to the public. Your elected officials need to hear from you. Here's an updated list of where they'll be:


Tuesday, March 10
Joint Committee on Government Reform - State Capitol - focused on Outside Influences on Government
AND
Quinn Reform Commission Zeke Georgi Building Auditorium, 2000 S Wyman Street, Rockford
Tuesday, March 17
Joint Committee on Government Reform - State Capitol - focused on Campaign Reform
Tuesday, March 24
Joint Committee on Government Reform - State Capitol - focused on Procurement Issues
Thursday, March 26
Quinn Reform Commission TBD, Quad Cities
Tuesday, March 31
Joint Committee on Government Reform - State Capitol - focused on Procurement Issues
Monday, April 6
Quinn Reform Commission University of Illinois College of Law, Max L Rowe Auditorium, 504 E Pennsylvania Ave.
Thursday, April 23
Quinn Reform Commission TDB, East St. Louis
Tuesday, April 28
Quinn Reform Commission TDB, DeKalb

At the same time that voters are outraged about the corrupt practices of the Blagojevich administration and their long-term impact on the state, news reports are claiming that reform is "not a very popular position" in the Capitol. You know what legislators have to do. Tell them: in person, by phone, in the mail, and by joining together with other reformers. Now is the time.