Editorial: Illinois' revolving door from public office to paid lobbyist

  • Lobbyists, lawmakers and staff members gather at the Capitol in Springfield. Illinois law places no restrictions on the ability for public officials to become lobbyists.

    Lobbyists, lawmakers and staff members gather at the Capitol in Springfield. Illinois law places no restrictions on the ability for public officials to become lobbyists. Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 8/4/2019 4:24 PM

There are a number of reasons Illinois has its well-deserved reputation for sordid politics, beyond the fact that so many of our governors end up in prison.

One of them is how easily our state politicians are influenced by special interests. Because of the nature of our state politics, even some our most well-meaning legislators, frankly, end up being compromised. Few are in any position to exert real independence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's not just the money in politics that undermines our republican democracy. It's also the influence peddlers who operate in Illinois almost without significant regulation.

Last week, in a report on states that are making strides to "rein in lobbying activity by former public officials," the advocacy group Public Citizen noted that Illinois is one of only seven states that have no restrictions on "revolving door" lobbying.

None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

A legislator in Illinois can resign today and start work as a paid lobbyist tomorrow.

And many do.

Public Citizen is a liberal advocacy group founded almost a half century ago by Ralph Nader, but the issues related to lobbying transcend political ideology. Its study was brought to our attention by The Center Square, a news organization with conservative roots.

In Illinois, Democrats take lobbying jobs after departing the legislature. And Republicans do, too. There's a long list of both from the suburbs.

And often, they are lucrative positions that are based on inside connections.

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"Public officials are supposed to serve the public interest of the American people," Public Citizens' own lobbyist Craig Holman said. "Increasingly, however, these public officials are leaving government service to work on behalf of private interests, as well as their own, as lobbyists or strategic consultants on behalf of lobbying campaigns for special interests. If we want government to work for us, we need to slow the revolving door."

We agree.

Next door, Iowa is one of a handful of states cited by Public Citizen that require a "cooling off" period during which former officials are not allowed to conduct any lobbying for compensation.

In Iowa, that period is for two years and applies to former executive officeholders as well as legislators.

In Florida, better yet, that prohibition extends for six years.

Illinois state government needs a number of reforms, as we and others have pointed out repeatedly.

One reform that could be adopted overnight and have impact overnight would be a ban on the overnight transition from officeholder to paid lobbyist.

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