Bill would ban Illinois lawmakers from acting as lobbyists

Bill would ban Illinois lawmakers from acting as lobbyists

When Illinois lawmakers work as lobbyists, it creates public distrust and serious conflicts of interest.

Illinois lawmakers have an opportunity to make a much-needed ethics reform by placing checks on the kinds of advocacy in which they can participate.

State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, filed House Bill 4042 to ban lawmakers from acting as lobbyists while they are in office. State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, filed a Senate version of the bill as Senate Bill 3020.

The proposals would prohibit members of the General Assembly from working as lobbyists or in a manner that would require them to register as a lobbyist while they are an elected official. The proposal further bars their immediate family members, spouses or others living with them, from being paid as lobbyists. The ban would also keep those individuals from communicating with executive officials in both state and local government for the purpose of trying to influence administrative action in those offices.

If passed, the proposal would immediately take effect. Any violation would be considered a Class A misdemeanor. If it is the lawmaker who violates the law, they would be removed from office.

Chicago City Council members took similar action at the end of 2019, fulfilling one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s anti-corruption promises. The City Council resolution bans aldermen, city workers, state lawmakers and other elected officials from lobbying City Hall or other city departments for private gain.

“We are surrounded by impropriety at the state level, at the county level and in this body,” Ald. Matt O’Shea, 19th Ward, said when pushing the resolution. “The feds are all around us. We need to send a message that this B.S. is over with.”

During the past year, three state lawmakers resigned as they faced corruption charges. That included former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to taking more than $250,000 in bribes and tax fraud at the end of January. Sandoval lobbied the Illinois Department of Transportation to have red-light cameras installed in Oak Brook Terrace on behalf of SafeSpeed LLC. Sandoval received more than $70,000 in campaign funds for being SafeSpeed’s guardian in the Senate, he said.

Under the new proposal, Sandoval’s use of his position as a state lawmaker to influence other units of government would be illegal. He would be removed from office for his lobbying and charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

A recent analysis by WLS-TV found Illinois has had more public corruption convictions than any other state since 2000. The state has put away 891 individuals for their roles in various schemes during the past two decades.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have also teamed up to close Illinois’ revolving door that has allowed former lawmakers to become lobbyists the day after leaving office. According to Senate Bill 2314, lawmakers would be required to take a two-year cooling-off period before they could return to the General Assembly as a lobbyist. Illinois is one of just 14 states without a cooling-off period.

Illinois desperately needs corruption reforms. Voters should not be left to wonder whether state lawmakers care more about the public interest or their private-sector lobbying clients.

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