Clerk David Orr today launched Lobbyist Online, a new searchable database of lobbyists and lobbying activity in Cook County.
“Lobbyists reported trying to influence nearly 60 county officials and making 576 contacts with those officials in the first half of 2010,” Orr said. “We’ve never before had this level of detail about how lobbyists attempt to influence county government. Lobbyist Online sheds sunshine in ways beyond our expectations.”
Lobbyist Online is the result of the Lobbyist Sunshine Initiative – a package of amendments proposed by Orr and Commissioner Bridget Gainer (D-10th District) and aimed at bringing more transparency to lobbying in Cook County. The initiative was unanimously adopted by the County Board on Oct. 6, 2009.
“The online reporting tool created by Clerk Orr’s office is a major advance for transparency in Cook County,” Gainer said. “The website gives taxpayers the upper hand.”
All 188 lobbyists – representing 84 firms and five sole proprietors – used the new online tool to submit reports by the July 20 deadline. Those reports are now available online for public viewing at cookcountyclerk.com/ethics/lobbyistonline. Lobbyist Online is broken into four searches:
• Who are the lobbyists?
• What are they lobbying about?
• Who are they lobbying?
• What’s their compensation?
For example, someone searching the site can search by a lobbyist’s name or view the list of all lobbyists. When a lobbyist is selected, the user will see all of the lobbyist’s clients and all of the activity conducted on behalf of their clients.
Lobbyists reported earning $1,121,295 in the first half of 2010, down slightly from $1,270,033 reported between July and December of 2009.
“When lobbying is a million dollar business in Cook County, the transparency provided by Lobbyist Online is invaluable,” Orr said. “You cannot have accountability in government without openness and disclosure.”
Switching from paper-based to online reporting may have impacted the percentage of lobbyists and firms reporting compensation – it jumped from 15 to 48 percent. Three firms reported earning more than $100,000; another 16 reported compensation of $10,000 or more.
With Lobbyist Online, lobbyists’ clientele is made apparent. About 85 companies contracted with a lobbyist or a firm so far this year, including companies headquartered in Virginia, Nevada, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.
Real-time reporting is now possible with Lobbyist Online, whereby lobbyists will be required to submit new client information within 48 hours of being contracted. Lobbyists will continue to also file twice a year in January and July.
David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform supported the Lobbyist Sunshine Initiative at the onset and said he is more than pleased with the end result.
“This new website is a model other units of government should look to as an example for revealing the work of lobbyists,” Morrison said. “The curtain is pulled back and the public can see it all – the good, the bad and the mundane.”
David Morrison (left) and Carolyn Mehta, of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and Clerk David Orr display screenshots from the new Lobbyist Online.