Clerk David Orr and Commissioner Bridget Gainer today introduced the Lobbyist Sunshine Initiative, a half dozen amendments aimed at bringing more transparency to who influences Cook County government.
“You can’t have accountability in government without transparency,” Orr said. “The current laws don't require enough information about which lobbyists were hired to influence what bill or proposal. We can and should do more to connect the dots between million dollar contracts and lobbyists who stand to profit from their approval.”
Gainer (D-10th District), added, “The most important action that the Board can take is to reduce the perception of back-room dealing.”
The proposed amendments will create an online lobbyist reporting tool, simultaneously making reporting more convenient for lobbyists while aggregating data into a searchable format. Lobbyist data will be sortable by categories, such as subject matter, client and compensation.
A web-based process will allow for real-time reporting, whereby lobbyists will be required to submit new client information within 48 hours of being contracted. Currently, lobbyists file twice a year in January and July.
“Online lobbyist reporting will give taxpayers, elected officials and the media unprecedented access to track who is lobbying and about what,” Orr said. “Everyone will be able to act as a watchdog.”
The sunshine initiative calls for broadening what lobbyists are required to report, including:
• What contract or subject matter they are lobbying on;
• Which County officials were lobbied and when;
• The entity on whose behalf the lobbying contact was made;
• Whether the lobbyist had a relationship by birth or marriage with the official they lobbied.
Penalties for filing late will be made consistent with the State of Illinois: $50 per day for first 15 days late and $150 per day thereafter.
At the County Board level, this initiative will help connect lobbying with the award of contracts by listing lobbyist names and firms on the Board agenda in advance of approval.
Finally, these reforms include a one-year cooling-off period during which former County officials and employees are prohibited from lobbying the County on any issue.
“Lobbying is a multi-million dollar business in Cook County,” Orr said. “Yet our current system makes it extremely difficult to link the county’s big ticket contracts and controversial decisions with specific lobbyists. This initiative aims to change that.”
The following have signed on as co-sponsors of the Lobbyist Sunshine Initiative: County Board Chairman John Daley and Commissioners Joan Patricia Murphy, Elizabeth Ann Doody Gorman, Deborah Sims, Forest Claypool and Timothy Schneider. The initiative also has the backing of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
To view the Clerk’s most recent lobbyist report, please visit the Ethics section of our website.