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A Push to Bar Lobbying Work by Lawmakers 

 
Chicago News Cooperative/New York Times
January 14, 2012
By John Sullivan and Fredric N. Tulsky

Lobbying by Illinois lawmakers would be barred under a bill proposed by the Legislature’s inspector general, who monitors ethical conduct by state representatives and senators.

“Legislators should not be allowed to be paid to lobby on behalf of clients before any public body,” said the inspector general, Thomas J. Homer, who plans to introduce the bill within the next two weeks. His comments were in response to an investigation by the Chicago News Cooperative and Medill Watchdog, a journalism project at Northwestern University.

Mr. Homer has previously urged lawmakers to impose penalties for ethics violations, but now he wants the Legislature to prohibit all lobbying by lawmakers.

Among those calling for stricter rules on lobbying are Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who said she would push for greater disclosure by legislators whose family members are lobbyists.

“People need more information to decide if there are conflicts,” she said.

Illinois law prohibits legislators from lobbying their colleagues, but they can still represent private clients on county and municipal issues. Similarly, while local officials may not lobby their own local government bodies, they can represent clients to officials at other levels of government. The law stops short of barring them from voting on legislation that would benefit themselves, family members or business partners.

Public records show that more than two dozen public officials are lobbyists or have relatives or business partners who are registered lobbyists. The records showed repeated cases of officials taking actions that were sought by clients, or clients of their relatives or business partners.

A spokeswoman for John Cullerton, the Senate president, who has registered in the past as a lobbyist, said that for now, Mr. Homer’s proposals are a matter for the Legislative Ethics Commission to consider.

“If legislation is filed, we will fully review the issues and implications of legislative action on this topic,” said the spokeswoman, Rikeesha Phelon.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for Michael Madigan, the House speaker, said Mr. Madigan would need to see the legislation before deciding whether to support it.  “There are other provisions in state law that protected the public from wrongdoing, and that’s the goal here,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown questioned whether conflicts arise often enough to justify a new law. “If it’s not a problem, we do not need to create a bunch of tripwires for people as they live their lives,” he said.  

State Representative Fred Crespo, Democrat of Hoffman Estates, said he would reintroduce a bill that bars lobbying by legislators at any level. The measure has never made it out of committee.

Mr. Homer said the issue first concerned him when he served six terms as a state representative, from 1982 to 1994. “It leaves too much potential for a ‘you-rub-my-back-and- I’ll-rub-yours’ situation and raises the specter of quid pro quo,” he said.