In the wake of recent news reports and criminal probes, many people are asking questions about the current state of Illinois’ lobbyist law. Current law allows well-connected insiders to solicit campaign contributions with a barely-concealed promise that news of the contribution will be told to someone who can do the giver a big favor.
In response to these news reports, a bill enacted by the General Assembly during the November 2019 veto session was signed into law this week. SB 1639 makes small, but positive changes to Illinois lobbyist disclosure law. If a lobbyist has been hired by another advocate to conduct advocacy on behalf of a previously-secret third party, that fact must now be disclosed. If a person has been hired to lobby a unit of local government, such as the city of Chicago or one of its suburbs, that fact must now be disclosed on the State of Illinois’ lobbyist database; previously, local lobbying disclosure was not required. The lobbyist disclosure database will be more frequently amended and updated.
SB 1639 was approved by the Illinois House by a bipartisan majority (110-5-0). The measure was signed into law on Thursday, December 5.
I believe we still need comprehensive ethics reform, and I supported the following measures to do so:
- House Bill 3954 that will revise statements of economic interests to include more details similar to the information required for judicial statement of economic interest forms. This forces full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and provides greater transparency for members of the General Assembly.
- HJRCA 36 will require a special election to fill General Assembly vacancies through the same laws governing our party primaries. This will prevent political powerbrokers from picking their preferred candidates for the vacancies.
- House Resolution 588 will allow a Chief Co-Sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it for an up or down vote in a substantive committee.
- House Bill 3947 would ban members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Currently, members of the Illinois General Assembly – state representatives and state senators – are prohibited from lobbying the State of Illinois, but are not prohibited from lobbying local government units, such as a counties or municipalities.
- House Bill 3955 will create mandatory and publicly available documentation of General Assembly communications with any state agency regarding contracts.
- HB361, to increase fines for legislators engaging in restricted activities or violating the legislator rules of conduct.
- HJR87, which creates a State Ethics Task Force to address corruption in Illinois government.
Much more work needs to be done on ethics and governmental practice.