Former Illinois Senate president returns to lobby for utility on energy bill

Former Illinois Senate president returns to lobby for utility on energy bill

The former president of the Illinois Senate is now a lobbyist for a power utility. Illinois needs stronger rules on when their peers can return to sway state lawmakers.

Illinois Senate members will return June 15 for a single day, with the main topic expected to be energy legislation, Senate President Don Harmon said.

And guess who’s among the ranks of energy company lobbyists: Harmon’s predecessor, former Senate President John Cullerton.

Cullerton is now a lobbyist for Ameren after retiring in January 2020 from 40 years in the Statehouse, with 11 of those as Senate president. Sitting lawmakers will face their former boss as he pushes the interests of a large utility to sway their votes on an energy package that could use tax dollars to keep nuclear power plants open, close coal-fired plants that will cost southern Illinois jobs and shape the direction of renewable energy for years.

Illinois just passed an ethics reform package with a 6-month prohibition on lawmakers lobbying their former peers, but the reform contains a big loophole. The delay only applies during the term of the General Assembly when the lawmaker retired.

If the reforms are signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, they take effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Had the reform been passed back when Cullerton retired in the middle of the 101st Illinois General Assembly, he would have faced the 6-month delay. Had he retired a year later when the 101st General Assembly expired and the new 102nd General Assembly was sworn in Jan. 13, 2021, he would have been free to lobby his former peers on that day.

Some ethics reforms are better than none, and Illinois just left the minority of states with no restrictions on their former lawmakers becoming lobbyists. But the weak reform on lawmaker lobbying needs to be strengthened: at least one year, but two would be better, regardless of where a lawmaker is in a term.

Two years is the standard in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and New York. After spending so long in the group of lawmaker lobbyist underachievers, Illinois should demostrate a real break with its past by joining the overachievers.

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