Illinois’ Political Revolving Door

Chicago Has Stricter Revolving Door Lobbying Rules
than the Illinois General Assembly

Written by Cal Skinner
McHenry County Blog – Former Illinois State Representative

With the current budding scandals in Chicago, it’s hard to believe that the city council’s ethics rules are stricter than Springfield’s, but, that is the case.

Former Chicago Alderman Will Burns broke the revolving door rule which prohibits Aldermen from lobbying the city within a year after leaving office. He resigned, went to work for Airbnb and, before twelve months had elapsed, Burns called a city official on behalf of his new employer and appeared on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” to talk about the regulatory ordinance being considered by his former colleagues. Last month, Burns paid a penance of $5,000.

For state legislators, there is no waiting period.

State Senator Pam Althoff (R-McHenry County) resigned and immediately went to work for Enterprise Car Rental, lobbying for a gubernatorial veto override of a bill she had co-sponsored to hamper Uber and Lyft. According to a report by the Illinois News Network, she is now also head of the Illinois Cannabis Alliance, a trade group pushing to legalize recreational marijuana.

As a Chicago Sun-Times editorial put it, “The revolving door can’t swing much faster.”

The Sun-Times was brutal:

When elected officials leave office and go to work for the companies they carried water for, you, the voters, should assume your interests were coming in second all along.

Althoff was not alone among Republican State Senators deciding to become lobbyists after leaving office.

Chris Nybo, a DuPage County State Representative before being elected to the Illinois Senate where he was defeated for re-election, announced that his new law firm will be lobbying.

He describes the enterprise as “a full-service government relations focused law firm,” saying he “brings his unique experience in advising clients on complex regulatory matters, articulating and advocating policy positions, and creating effective business, legislative and legal strategies.”

The switching of sides is not limited to Republicans. State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), House Speaker Mike Madigan‘s long-time voice on the Illinois House floor, resigned to take a lobbyist post with Advantage Government Strategies. Its clients include a firm that provides medical services to state prisoners, Exelon, AT&T, the beer industry and many others.

Now, two third-term Republican State Representatives have introduced legislation to delay the revolving door from Illinois House and Illinois Senate floors to lobbyist corridors.

Tom Bennett (R-Ford County) introduced House Bill 165, which would impose a two-year cooling-off period before one who has served in the Illinois General Assembly may be employed as a lobbyist.

Margo McDermed (R-Will County) has introduced House Bill 879, which would ban lawmakers from registering as a lobbyist, or receiving or making payments as a lobbyist, for one year or the remainder of their term — whichever is longer.

“The people who spend time (in Springfield) tend to stay here,” McDermed told the (Decatur) Herald and Review. “Is one year enough to break the relationships? Maybe. It’s certainly better than one minute.”

So far, only State Rep. Mark Batnick (Plainfield), another Will County Republican, has signed on as a co-sponsor.

Similar legislative proposals have popped up in other states.

In Maine, Democratic Sen. Justin Chenette has introduced a bill to prohibit former legislators from lobbying for four years. The prohibition now is one year, but there is something called a “safe harbor” exception that allows eight hours of lobbying per month, even in that first year.

“There is a revolving door of legislators becoming lobbyists and blurring the lines of who is fighting for the best interest of Maine people,” Chenette said.

In Michigan, former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, while running a losing race for governor, proposed a two-year ban prohibiting elected state officials from becoming lobbyists.

Two days after leaving office, he registered as a lobbyist for the Small Business Association of Michigan.

Calley is only one of seven who have reversed roles. Some of those individuals sponsored that “cooling off” legislation, the term used in Michigan, the Detroit News reports.

Michigan prohibits legislators from resigning to take a lobbying job. They must wait until the end of their terms.

Illinois and Michigan are among the fewer than ten states (including Idaho, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming) with laws  that do not ban recent legislators, department heads or executive officials from immediately taking paid jobs to lobby former colleagues in the government they had just exited.

The Detroit News points out restrictions “are designed to reduce ethical conflicts. Those include the potential for interest groups to promise future jobs to officials in exchange for preferential treatment while they are still in office.”

Do legislator lockout laws make for better government?

The issue that no legislator has taken on yet is whether retired legislators should be allowed to continue using leftover campaign funds to further their lobbying careers.

According to an Illinois News Network article, the following former lawmakers are now lobbyists seeking to influence their former colleagues:

Rep. Eddie Acevedo, Democrat, represents beer distributors, others.

Sen. Pamela Althoff, Republican, represents local governments.

Rep. John Bradley, Democrat, represents ComEd, others.

Rep. Jerry Costello, Democrat, represents Southern Illinois Healthcare Assn. and others.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, Democrat, represents MidAmerican Energy Co.

Rep. Lou Lang, Democrat, has yet to register as representing clients.

Rep. Robert Molaro, Democrat, represents pension funds, towns, Bedford Grow Inc. and others.

Sen. Matt Murphy, Republican, represents Exelon, Walgreens, others via Mac Strategies.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, Democrat, represents various green energy companies and nonprofits.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, Democrat, represents Ameren, DraftKings, and others.

Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., Republican, represents ComEd, Illinois State Rifle Assn, others.

Sen. Dave Sullivan, Republican, represents AT&T, AbbVie, ComEd, various others.

Sen. Michael Tryon, Republican, represents Illinois Aggregate producers, various others.

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