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Friday, October 18, 2019

Illinois one of 11 states that lets departing lawmakers immediately become lobbyists

Their View

By Tivas Gupta, Illinois Policy Institute | Aug 20, 2019


Imagine a lawmaker passes a bill giving a special benefit to a large company, then quickly leaves office to work as a lobbyist for the same company.

Not only is that questionable practice legal in Illinois, it is also fairly common in the state. Lawmakers frequently leave the Statehouse as elected officials only to return as lobbyists. This is the “revolving door” between government and the private sector.

Despite the conflict of interest, Illinois is one of only 11 states that do not have “revolving door” laws forbidding lawmakers from lobbying once they leave office, according to a report compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The federal government imposes several bans and cooling-off periods for former lawmakers and senior officials, ranging from a one- or two-year ban for most congressmen and senators, to a lifetime ban for switching sides from public to private on a “particular matter.”

The other states without “revolving door” laws include Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. Even among these states, many have more restrictions than Illinois on what lawmakers can do after leaving office.

For example, in Kansas there is a two-year limit if a lawmaker was involved in any contracts made between the state and a prospective employer. Michigan has a ban on lobbying, but only for politicians who resign from office.

While these restrictions are still weak compared to the rest of the nation, they are much stronger than the few laws in Illinois. Illinois only places restrictions on former lawmakers who worked on state procurement contracts for a year after leaving office, and has no general laws preventing lobbying by former lawmakers.

These practices are part of a larger problem that has given way to Illinois’ designation as the third-most corrupt state in the nation.

Despite the cost and damage Illinois faces from corruption, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has done little to address it. Meanwhile, federal authorities have taken a keen interest in several Illinois state and local politicians.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ran on an anti-corruption campaign and has already pushed several key reforms through the City Council. They include granting expanded powers to the city inspector general, limiting outside employment for aldermen and increasing penalties for ethics violations.

There is hope in the anti-corruption push for transparency in Chicago. Springfield should work to enact similar reforms that ban lobbying by former lawmakers, restricting state leaders’ ability to use public office as a path to private gain.

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