April 16, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Power of lawmakers a more important target than lobbyists’ income

Sometimes Alexi Giannoulias shows he understands his job.

From campaigning in 2021 on election security – he called the Secretary of State’s Office “the first line of defense for voting rights” despite knowing the State Board of Elections administers election laws – to trying to force “DMV” into state vernacular, it’s often been fair to wonder if Giannoulias truly grasps his present role or if it’s merely a platform to eventually seek higher office.

But when Giannoulias issued a news release Tuesday calling for stronger state ethics laws, it actually reinforced understanding of his office’s role in maintaining lobbyist registrations and political candidates’ economic interest statements. Neither is the thing most people consider when hearing “Illinois Secretary of State,” so the reminder is well received.

However, like far too many well-intentioned ethics fixes, the enthusiasm is outsized in regard to potential impact.

As the release explained, Giannoulias helped draft House Bill 4591, amending the Lobbyist Registration Act. The House sponsor is Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, and the bill is assigned to the Ethics and Elections Committee.

The proposal moves beyond nominal fines for lobbyists who fail to comply with reporting requirements by giving the Secretary of State’s Office power to investigate allegations and suspend or revoke registration. It also would require bi-monthly reports disclosing who compensates lobbyists.

To illustrate the potential effects, Giannoulias identified three people who can currently register as lobbyists: Tim Mapes, just given a 30-month federal prison sentence for lying to a grand jury, Mike McClain, found guilty for his role in advancing legislation favorable to Commonwealth Edison, and John Hooker, also tied to ComEd and convicted of bribery.

It makes no sense to keep Giannoulias from rejecting lobbyist applications from folks with similar resumes, so giving his office that power is a commonsense step forward. Yet that authority will only come into play in the rare chance such applications surface. Would knowing their salaries (Mapes wasn’t a lobbyist) have changed their conduct? Furthermore, limiting who can lobby doesn’t address the power of people they solicit.

All three of Giannoulias’ examples are tied to former House Speaker Michael Madigan. But the same challenges apply to Chicago City Hall and the recent conviction of former Ald. Ed Burke. As noted in December, allegations facing these veteran Chicago Democrats describe men who could almost singlehandedly approve or deny so many important matters that the only way to get anything done – even things with broad public benefit – was playing ball on their terms.

Giannoulias is right to limit the scope of his reforms to issues under his control. But truly eradicating Illinois corruption is less about who approaches the powerful and much more about why so few people can amass such dominion.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.