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updated: 6/11/2011 6:47 PM

The absurdity of tax spending on lobbyists

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform released a report last week tallying the amounts local governments spent from July 2009 to July 2010 lobbying state government, and the initial inclination is to single out the local governments that showed up at the top of the list.

Why, for instance, should the Regional Transportation Authority and its boards -- Metra, Pace and the CTA -- spend more than $1 million to lobby legislators, the governor and other state officials?

Or, for that matter, why are various departments of DuPage County government spending a combined hundreds of thousands of dollars to push politics in Springfield?

Good questions, we agree. Excess and unchecked spending by local governments is something we all should monitor and discourage.

(And we've certainly taken note of the ironic recent tendency of county and township governments in DuPage to show up on one spending watchdog report after another even though they're all controlled by the same Republican Party that decries undisciplined spending as a bedrock tenet of national political doctrine.)

The more pertinent question, however, should be: Why should taxpayer dollars be spent on any lobbying at all?

In raising that question, we realize the issues are a little more complicated than that.

We understand that municipal officials may genuinely make a case that they are looking out for their constituencies when they spend a comparatively small amount of money, for example, lobbying for changes to pension mandates that cost local taxpayers considerably more.

That dilemma, of course, is not the only one. There are many others -- cases of spending lobbying money to chase state or federal grants that can bring in a whole lot more.

It is, as they say, a sticky wicket. And local officials caught in this quandary are not, for the most part, corrupt and wasteful spendthrifts.

But ultimately, the system is corrupt and wasteful. Spending taxpayer money to promote a political perspective?

Where is the probity in that? Spending taxpayer money in order to get taxpayer money? What is the logic in that?

The Sunshine Review reported last year that local governments in Illinois spent $6.2 million since 2005 lobbying state and federal governments.

The actual figure is undoubtedly much higher if you add money spent on government associations and staff time devoted at least part-time to twisting arms.

Ultimately, it doesn't make sense, and something needs to be done about it.

On the local level, we ask for tough self-discipline. And on the state and federal levels, new rules on lobbying need to be explored.