Suburban lawmakers consider statewide lobbyist regulation

  • Suburban officials and other lawmakers question experts during a hearing on lobbying reforms Wednesday. Local legislators include state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville, first row, far left; Revenue Secretary David Harris of Arlington Heights, front row, center; and Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin, back row, far right.

      Suburban officials and other lawmakers question experts during a hearing on lobbying reforms Wednesday. Local legislators include state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville, first row, far left; Revenue Secretary David Harris of Arlington Heights, front row, center; and Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin, back row, far right. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/16/2020 5:42 PM

If the state requires lobbyists to register to increase transparency, why shouldn't local governments?

Those were among anomalies and loopholes lawmakers on the state's Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform considered Wednesday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The commission was convened by Gov. J.B. Pritzker amid a federal corruption probe that has implicated some state officials and lobbyists.

Democratic state Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin asked what tools state regulators had to foil "bad actors" among the ranks of lobbyists. "Who makes sure these folks comply (with rules)?" she said.

There are financial penalties for missing registration deadlines, experts said, but limited checks on misbehavior.

One surprise for commission members appeared to be that only a few jurisdictions, including the state of Illinois, Cook County and Chicago, impose restrictions on lobbyists. The vast majority of municipalities, park or school districts do not.

Republican state Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods suggested local governments could piggyback onto the Illinois secretary of state's established system for registering lobbyists without having to reinvent the wheel.

"I think a unified state system makes the most sense," McConchie said. "That's something I think provides the greatest transparency for the least amount of pain."

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Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville said he was surprised by revelations that criminal background checks aren't conducted on lobbyists and that lawmakers can act as lobbyists.

"I just don't know how you can be a legislator and a lobbyist at the same time ... even if you're not lobbying state government. That's just common sense," Wehrli said.

Meanwhile, Illinois State Association of Counties Executive Director Joe McCoy noted that although DuPage County requires individuals seeking to influence county policy to register as lobbyists, no one had tried to register as a lobbyist in DuPage since 2010.

The commission's recommendations are due by March 31.

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