Chicago City Council votes to ban lobbying by elected leaders

Chicago City Council votes to ban lobbying by elected leaders

Chicago’s second round of anti-corruption rules restricts aldermen and city employees from working as lobbyists and stops other elected leaders from lobbying city government for private clients.

Recent corruption scandals prompted Chicago’s City Council on Dec. 18 to put a halt to aldermen or city workers working as lobbyists, and to stop other elected leaders from lobbying them or city departments on behalf of private clients.

Ald. Matt O’Shea, 19th Ward, and Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, sponsored the ordinance in response to ongoing federal probes into city aldermen’s and Illinois lawmakers’ conflicts between their private and public jobs. It follows Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s set of anti-corruption ordinances unanimously passed July 24 to restrict aldermen’s outside employment and give the city’s watchdog greater power.

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

Besides multiple current federal probes of politicians, Chicago has seen 30 aldermen convicted of corruption since 1972. The city’s longest-serving alderman, Ed Burke, faces a 14-count federal indictment.

A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found Illinois is the second-most corrupt state in the nation and Chicago the nation’s most corrupt city.

The new ordinance states “no elected official of the state or a unit of local government in the state may lobby the city, the City Council, or any city agency, department, board or commission unless they’re acting in their elected capacity for constituents, representing a legal client in quasi-judicial, administrative or legislative action, or engaging in political activity.”

It also keeps Chicago’s elected leaders and city employees from lobbying other governments on behalf of clients. It emphasizes lobbying work should only be done in their official capacity on behalf of their constituents.

Numerous public servants are already registered as lobbyists to the city of Chicago, including Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who received $14,000 from various clients including Amazon in 2019, and retiring state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

Former Ald. Mike Zalewski, 23rd Ward, was also a registered lobbyist with the state while serving on the City Council. Federal agents raided his home during the summer seeking records related to his longtime political ally, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The new regulations would make lawmakers choose between their political or lobbying careers.

The proposal comes after former state Rep. Luis Arroyo was charged with bribing a state senator in October. According to Chicago Tribune sources, Arroyo met with state Sen. Terry Link, D-Indian Creek, and bribed him with $2,500 a month to support gambling legislation for a client. Arroyo also lobbied the city of Chicago regarding gambling legislation on behalf of V.S.S. Inc., which paid him $22,500 this year.

While anti-corruption action is being taken at Chicago City Hall, there is mostly an uncomfortable silence in the Statehouse, where insider dealings run rampant as lawmakers double as lobbyists even before they stop representing the public’s interests.

The FBI has specifically shown interest in Madigan’s relationship with Commonwealth Edison, according to the Chicago Tribune. Former Madigan staffers now lobby the state legislature on behalf of ComEd, while the utility has organized large fundraisers for the Democratic Party of Illinois, which Madigan chairs.

Illinois state lawmakers also need to pass reforms, and can start with Senate Bill 2314. It would require former lawmakers to take a two-year break before they can act as lobbyists. Currently, a lawmaker can begin lobbying the General Assembly the day after leaving office.

Besides the lobbying reform, lawmakers should make changes empowering the legislative inspector general, stop voting when they have conflicts of interest, change rules that concentrate power with the House speaker, spend construction dollars by need and not by political clout, and amend the Illinois Constitution so they no longer draw their own legislative district maps.

Illinois’ culture of corruption has seen four of the past eight governors go to prison. If Chicago can change its infamous ways, so can the state.

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