No Bold Steps in Chicago Lobbying Reform Legislation

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The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance sought by Mayor Rahm Emanuel tightening lobbying rules and increasing disclosure of lobbyist activities. Importantly the ordinance creates a searchable online system for registration and reporting allowing disclosures to be posted when they are filed.

Unfortunately, the City Council insisted on language that weakened the ordinance somewhat. For instance, lobbyists’ reports will be filed quarterly, rather than monthly, as the initial ordinance would have required.  In this day of instant access to everything on the Internet, having to wait three months for information about lobbying unnecessary and arcane. Information delayed is information denied.

In addition, the compromise that passed the Council exempted from the definition of lobbyist any “employee, officer or director of a not-for-profit entity who seeks to influence legislative or administrative action solely on behalf of that entity.”  In our opinion, anyone who lobbies as part of his or her paid employment should be defined as a lobbyist. Carve outs lead to gaping holes in disclosure that can be taken advantage of by powerful individuals who want their influence peddling to remain hidden.

Finally, missing from the initial proposal was a requirement that lobbyists disclose the name of the people whom they lobbied. Lobbying disclosure is a three-legged stool that must include information about the person doing the lobbying (including information about the client and details of campaign contributions); what specific government action he is seeking; and the name of the person he is seeking it from. Without that last leg, the stool falls.

The ordinance makes positive steps by requiring disclosure of campaign contributions, codifying revolving door provisions currently in an executive order, and limiting gifts from lobbyists to elected officials.

Still, the City of Chicago had a chance to take great strides toward greater disclosure.  It is disappointing they chose to take baby steps.

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