Kane County explores going big on lobbying

Leaders want to spend $240K

Perhaps spurred by recent success in wrangling enough state funds to wipe out the need for a toll on the Longmeadow Parkway, Kane County officials are contemplating their largest investment of taxpayer dollars toward lobbying at the state and federal levels.

Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog recently told county board members she believes a combination of state money, remaining COVID-19 relief money and cash contributions from neighboring counties will pay off the bond the county issued to pay for Longmeadow's construction. But that's only if $12.5 million for Longmeadow stays in the proposed state budget through the final vote.

"Fingers crossed," Pierog told the board's legislative committee. "I could not be happier."

Getting that money into the state budget for Kane County is a result of lobbying efforts by Pierog, county board members and a private lobbying firm the county hired.

But the use of lobbyists by the county is a touchy subject with a history that goes back through at least the previous two county board chairs.

A previous board moved to eliminate lobbyists from the county budget in the waning tenure of former county board Chair Karen McConnaughay. Several board members didn't like the political ties McConnaughay had with the lobbying firm the county used at the time.

Then, former county board Chair Chris Lauzen (now the county treasurer) campaigned on eliminating lobbyists as an unnecessary expense. Lauzen said his extensive experience as a former state senator and the efforts of the county board should be all the elbow grease needed to get money from the state. However, Lauzen's efforts never reaped any money for Longmeadow.

After Pierog's election, the board began experimenting with lobbying again. The result was $17.5 million for Longmeadow from the state - with the promise of more to come.

With that in mind, several board members - along with Coroner Rob Russell, Sheriff Ron Hain and State's Attorney Jamie Mosser - are backing a push for a $240,000 investment in lobbying over the next two years. Pierog also wants to enhance the county's lobbying efforts, but she favors a lower price tag, which may mean hiring a different firm.

The board, coroner's office, sheriff's office and state's attorney's office would share the cost of hiring McGuireWoods Consulting, a high-powered lobbying firm at the state and federal levels that has many former lawmakers on the payroll.

"We have already seen the returns," said Michelle Gums, co-chair of the board's legislative committee. "Sometimes you have to spend a buck to make a buck. I do not see any reason why this should not go forward. The money is there."

Not all board members are convinced. Board member Bill Lenert says the $240,000 price tag is "excessive." The overall cost is about twice as much as the county has spent on lobbying efforts in the past.

Other board members, like Vern Tepe, object to expanding the county's lobbying efforts because there is no organizational structure attached. For instance, it's not clear who would be in charge of communicating with or directing the lobbying efforts other than members of the legislative committee, who serve in part-time roles.

"It's being put together in a way that is just not well-founded or coordinated," Tepe said.

The plan received a 4-3 vote by the county board's finance committee in favor of hiring the firm. But the full board still must vote on the plan.

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