DuPage County hires new federal lobbyist

DuPage County Board members have hired a new lobbyist with Democratic ties to represent their interests in the nation's capital.

The county will pay McGuireWoods Consulting $8,000 a month or $96,000 total under a one-year contract starting Feb. 1. The board awarded the contract after several Republican members raised questions earlier this month about the cost and whether the federal lobbyist would work across party lines.

The lobbying firm’s senior vice president, Greg Bales, worked for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin for more than a decade as senior adviser in the Springfield Democrat’s government office and as Durbin’s campaign manager for his reelection in 2020. Bales also worked on U.S. Rep. Sean Casten’s first campaign and served as the Illinois state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.

“It’s clear that Greg has a solid relationship with our congressional delegation and will be a tremendous asset to DuPage County,” Dawn DeSart, chair of the county board’s legislative committee and an Aurora Democrat, said on Tuesday.

The contract with the county’s previous federal lobbying firm, BGR Government Affairs, expired at the end of August. Bill Viney is the principal of the firm, which was paid $80,000 per year. BGR Government Affairs had been the county's federal lobbyist since 2009.

“Bill Viney did a lot for us,” county board member Jim Zay, a Carol Stream Republican, said during a recent legislative committee meeting. “Many members, the chair and others, sat here during (the pandemic) and said, ‘We love our lobbyists.’ I'm trying to figure out why it's $16,000 more than we were paying our lobbyist last year.”

In 2022, DeSart said Viney “proved to be a valuable resource to members and to staff, interpreting Treasury guidelines for both the CARES Act and the ARPA money, to provide overviews of critical federal legislation throughout the year, arrange meetings for members when in D.C. and keeping us updated with weekly reports.”

DeSart told committee members earlier this month that Viney’s lobbying organization “was Republican,” and “he did a fine job ... bipartisan job for us.”

County board member Liz Chaplin, a Downers Grove Democrat, has previously voted against lobbyist contracts, arguing instead that board members should be the ones lobbying state and federal lawmakers.

“I did question the lobbyists because I never knew what we were paying for,” Chaplin said. “We never saw them. We never heard from them.”

She said officials now regularly hear from the county’s lobbying team, and DuPage is “still paying a lot less for lobbyists” than when she first joined the board.

The county also has two lobbyists vouching for its agenda in Springfield. The board renewed a $90,000, one-year contract with Roger C. Marquardt & Co. this past September. The board also renewed a $50,000 contract with its second state lobbyist, Park Ridge-based Raucci & Sullivan Strategies. That contract will expire Aug. 31.

The county uses a federal lobbyist to seek out federal dollars for transportation and infrastructure projects. DeSart said Bales has already worked with congressional and county staffers to identify potential requests for “community project funding” ‒ otherwise known as earmarks.

“You sound like you have tremendous experience, and that is wonderful for us as a county, especially with your personal and professional connections in D.C. and in the state of Illinois,” county board member Cindy Cronin Cahill, an Elmhurst Republican, told Bales. “But for those of us that are Republicans on the county board, I’m hoping that our legislative agenda will put forth bipartisan issues that we all care about.”

Bales said his firm has Democrats and Republicans on staff.

“With the return of earmarks ... I want to make sure DuPage County is getting their fair share,” he said, ”to support the initiatives that you set at the board.”

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