A Year of Big Changes to Illinois Lobbyist Laws - State and Federal Communications

December 2, 2010  •  

A Year of Big Changes to Illinois Lobbyist Laws

Gov. Pat QuinnThe enhancements to the system are aimed toward improving transparency and easing the public’s fear of “back room” politics.  It is no coincidence that the lobbying law changes come at the same time the state is strengthening ethics rules in other arenas.  The state recently passed new disclosure requirements for contacts with procurement officials.  Additionally, Illinois’ campaign finance laws will feature contribution limits in 2011 and quarterly PAC reporting.   The improvements to the state’s lobbying regulations are part of an overall climate of increasing disclosure around the United States.  Several other states, including Utah and Georgia, have made similar changes in state lobbying law this year.

The first change to the rules, which is already known by most people impacted by it, relates to the registration fee.  Illinois initially sought to increase this fee to $1,000 per lobbyist and per organization employing a lobbyist.  Thus, a company with two state-level lobbyists would have been charged $3,000 per year.   The ACLU sued for and was granted an injunction on this fee.  Essentially, the state agreed Illinois could not demonstrate the increase in cost was necessary to administer the Lobbyist Act.  Additionally, the ACLU had raised a First Amendment establishment clause argument because the bill granted exemptions to certain religious lobbying and thus “demonstrated a preference for religious speech over non-religious speech.”  Eventually, the state and the ACLU agreed to a fee of $300 and the suit was dropped.   Additionally, lobbyists are required to complete an online ethics training course within 30 days of registration.

Lobbyists will have to report more frequently in 2011 and beyond.  The lobbying dates used to be tied to whether the legislature was in session but are now semi-monthly, regardless.  In 2010, while the litigation on the Act was pending, reporting was done essentially as soon as the Secretary of State’s Index Department was able to receive them in the midst of the judicial and legislative melee.  Lobbyists filed a report on September 30 for the first half of 2010, and now must report second-half expenditures on January 15, 2011.  Starting in 2011, reports are due twice per month.  A report for the first 15 days is due on each 20th, and a report covering the 16th through the end of each month is due on the following 5th.  While this is very cumbersome, it is at least consistent.  The smaller reporting periods should make the information to be reported very manageable.

One feature of Illinois’ lobbying seen in a few other states is the provision relating to notification of officials.  Previously, if an official were set to appear on a lobbyist’s report because that lobbyist made an expenditure on the official, the lobbyist was required to give the official notice of this fact 25 days before the report was due and again 30 days after the report was filed.  Under the new changes, the 30-day post-notification remains but the pre-notification is changed.  Now, lobbyists must give the official “contemporaneous written notification” of a reportable expenditure made on the official’s behalf.

Photo of Gov. Pat Quinn by Chris Eaves on Wikipedia.

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