Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Lobbyist Registration Suspended

The General Assembly goes into session next week for three days. Anyone attending can expect to find lobbyists hanging out around the rail on the third floor. But will any of those lobbyists be registered with the Secretary of State, as required by law? That remains to be seen.

Lobbyists are required by state law to register within two business days of entering into an agreement to lobby, and before actively engaging in lobbying on behalf of a client. Registration ends with the calendar year, and most lobbyists renew their registration in January. But this year, a lawsuit over the recent increase in registration fees has closed registration for everybody.

SB 54, signed into law last summer, had a lot of provisions. There's a lot of good stuff in that bill, and the SJ-R recently editorialized in favor of some of them, dealing with public access to reports of Inspectors General under the 2003 Ethics Act. Another section made some long-needed clean-ups to the Lobbyist Registration Act. But it also increased the registration fee dramatically. Under previous law, for-profit entities and lobbyists each paid $350 per year to register, while non-profits could register for $150. Under the new law, all registrants, for- and non-profit, would be required to pay $1,000.

The fee increase is especially onerous for non-profits (and let's acknowledge here that ICPR is a non-profit). Many employees of non-profits lobby in the course of their work. If a legislator reaches out to them for advice or guidance on an issue, answering that question is lobbying and triggers registration. Testimony before a legislative committee, under most circumstances, is lobbying and requires registration. Speaking with an agency head about the implementation of a new policy is lobbying. It's difficult to be an effective advocate for a cause or organization without coming into contact with legislators and other government officials, but that contact can quickly trigger the registration requirement and the $1,000 fee. With the fee rising nearly 6-fold, many non-profits were alarmed.

The ACLU of Illinois and the Illinois Society of Association Executives filed separate suits against the increase, the former in federal court and the latter in state court. In the ACLU suit, U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall issued a temporary injunction, forbidding the Secretary of State to collect the increased fee from non-profits, pending the conclusion of the case. Further arguments are expected soon, and the suit could be concluded in a matter of days or weeks. The ISAE suit has a hearing before Illinois 7th Circuit Court Judge Pat Londrigan on Friday.

But while the federal injunction applies only to non-profits, the Secretary of State ended registration for all lobbyists. They could have kept registration open, collecting the $1,000 fee from for-profit entities and no fee from non-profits, or they could have collected the old $150 fee from non-profits and, after the two suits were concluded, adjusted the fee accordingly. Instead, it now appears that Illinois is the only state in the country without lobbyist registration.

Let's hope this gets resolved soon.

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