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The revolving door

Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013

* It’s difficult to argue too much with this editorial

State legislators can take jobs as lobbyists immediately after their time as lawmaker is done.

That means a lame-duck legislator can support a particular bill that sends money into one business or sector and then leave the General Assembly and begin working for that company or in that sector the next day. It stinks, but it’s still legal.

Thirty-five states have laws that force lawmakers to wait between six months and two years before taking a job as a lobbyist.

It’s time for Illinois to pass a law making lawmakers wait at least a year before becoming lobbyists.

Congress has a similar rule, but members get around it by being “of counsel” to lobbying firms until the revolving door ban expires. Reforms ain’t always what they’re cracked up to be.

Still, what bothers me is not so much that members take those jobs, it’s that they apply for them and negotiate their contracts while they are still legislators. Several members, for instance, applied for the bigtime Illinois Hospital Association gig which then-Sen. AJ Wilhelmi got. That process went on for a while, and some pretty prominent members served for weeks while the decision was being made.

And I don’t mean to single out Wilhelmi or the IHA here as a particularly noxious example. AJ is a decent guy and the IHA does good work. He was eminently qualified for that job. I don’t blame them at all for hiring him and he’s proved to be top notch.

But something needs to be changed here.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Meaningless - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:03 am:

    Would a law really make much difference when we already have big business forces (i.e. - Civic Committee) standing shoulder to shoulder with political leaders announcing THEIR legislative propasals?

  2. - shore - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:03 am:

    members of congress start negotiating and having informal talks about these things long before they take them, there’s stuff you can do, but those other parts of this that are less well defined but more important are virtually impossible to deal with.

  3. - Norseman - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:05 am:

    This is especially irritating since many state employees are prohibited from taking a job for a year under the ethics law. What’s good for the Goose should be good for the Gander.

  4. - Uggie - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:11 am:

    Agree with Norseman. Coincidentally, I just received an email where I have to acknowledge receipt of a document outlining the revolving door provisions of (5 ILCS 430/5-45).

  5. - Allen Skillicorn - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:12 am:

    Getting rid of the lame duck session would solve a lot of these problems.

  6. - Jimmy - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:14 am:

    All of these limitations make it more difficult for good folks without trust funds to serve in government. The public sector can be a great source of experience but more limitations on career choices after a stint in public service may keep some good folks from ever considering it in the first place.

  7. - iThink - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:14 am:

    Although I would like to see a law with a well-defined waiting period to try to limit the blatant vote-buying, I doubt it would do much. There is far too much graft, corruption, and political gamesmanship for such a law to ever be vigorously enforced.

  8. - Montrose - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:20 am:

    “Getting rid of the lame duck session would solve a lot of these problems.”


  9. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:24 am:

    Well thank God someone’s finally paying attention. When Marlow Colvin leaves the chamber as a legislator on a Friday and returns the following Tuesday as a top lobbyist for ComEd, then you’ve got a problem.

    When Kevin McCarthy leads the fight for the big ComEd smartgrid bill through the session, and suddenly leaves mid-session only to return as a contract lobbyist for, you guessed it - ComEd, then we’ve got a problem.

    The problem with reform efforts in this state is not that they have existed, but that they haven’t gone after the main issues. Revolving door is a great place to start.

  10. - Jimmy - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:27 am:

    Should we also prevent state’s attorneys and public defenders from practicing criminal defense law in the private sector for a year after leave their public post? Doctors working at county hospitals from opening a private practice for a year? Some folks seek public sector experience to do a better job in the private sector down the road. Since we have a very transparent lobbyist registration system in this state, that system should be sufficient for voters (and newspapers) to keep track of who is lobbying and who they represent.

  11. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:33 am:

    Pass the law with a one year period, and let the members beware. At least if they, and their new employers, are caught evading the law, it will be more embarassing.

    There is actually very little, if any “blatant vote-buying”. The problem is more cultural: unstated mutual expectations, and feelings of earned trust and loyalty.

  12. - Irish - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:41 am:

    We just received a monthly letter from the Office of the Inspector General and they were touting their success in stopping someone in a position there from moving to a private enterprise that he had overseen in his state job.

    It is about time for us to take the annual ethics test which we have to take and pass in order to stay employed with the State of Illinois. One of the statements that is pounded into your head throughout the test is “If something appears to be unethical whether it is or not. It must not be done.” In other words the mere thought that something could be unethical is reason for the employee not to do it.

    SB51 that was passed a couple of years ago sets all sorts of rules that MUST be followed in the procurement process including any state employee who has any conversation with any person who might be a vendor for the state about any product or service whether the vendor is used or not, MUST record the complete actual conversation on the State’s Procurement website. ( It must be noted that this law does not apply to Constitutional Officers or GA members or their staffs.)

    Why do none of these apply to the legislators? Wouldn’t our state be so much better off if everyone was made to comply with all of these rules? Rather than have legislators stand up and proclaim that they are not going to take advantage of their legislative pensions, I would like them to stand up and proclaim that they will hold themsaelves to the highest ethical standards and will pledge to resign if they are found to have violated any of the above rules.

  13. - Pension is a promise - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:41 am:

    This is no different than the Department of Juvenile Justice that brings retired employees getting a pension check back on a phony “emergency” 75 day contract several times to do the same job they retired from.

  14. - b - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:42 am:

    Something needs to be done. One year? I say make it 5. To have so little respect for the institution, for the voters that sent you to do a job to make their lives better (not enrich yourself) I think is a real travesty. To retire, or get beat and then go to work for the interests that lobbied you is one thing(after a year or 5), to negotiate with and apply for jobs as a sitting legislator to go to work for interests lobbying you is something entirely different. And people think corruption is only a problem in developing countries. Ha!

  15. - state worker - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:45 am:

    It’s crude and disgraceful. It also suggests that legislators are in the statehouse to find an eventual partner in big business, and not to serve the people. The medical marijuana bill hit up against Cross’ former chief of staff.

  16. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 11:56 am:

    =Should we also prevent state’s attorneys and public defenders from practicing criminal defense law in the private sector for a year after leave their public post?=

    Isn’t that comparing apples to oranges? Once an attorney–any attorney–joins a firm, conflicts of interest checks kick in and walls are raised if there’s a conflict unless you seek and get a pass due to some extenuating circumstance. And from what I know, there is no expiration date on that practice.

    As a general response to the question, if everyone played nicely, they wouldn’t do anything that would even raise a “perception of impropriety,” possibly avoiding same through full, public disclosure.

  17. - SO IL M - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 12:25 pm:

    In the words of the late Paul Powell
    “You cant pass an ethics bill that I cant get around”

  18. - Eileen left - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 12:36 pm:

    This is a solution looking for a problem. Check the lobbyist registration list and you will find that of the thousands of registered lobbyists only a handful are former legislators.If you are a company looking for representation wouldn’t you want someone who at least knows the players and the issues that they represent? All of the former legislators turned lobbyists that I am familiar with are not only ethical but are intelligent and hard working. Lets try not to rat hole former legislators and staffers as second class citizens.

  19. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:08 pm:

    I betcha Pat Quinn will be hired by the great wide Mississippi River as their PR man. He’s a natural!

  20. - OH BOY - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:10 pm:


  21. - He Makes Ryan Look Like a Saint - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 1:23 pm:

    But a State employee that is on an RFP committee cannot accept a jobfor 1 year (I think) from a company that bids on that RFP. HHHHMMMMMMM

  22. - siriusly - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 2:57 pm:

    Eileen, good point. However small the number, the appearance is very bad especially for the several who resigned mid-term last session and started lobbying immediately after. That’s just wrong.

    There should be a revolving door prohibition for former legislators, I think anywhere from 6 to 12 months is appropriate.

  23. - Faxfan - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 3:29 pm:

    I agree with the comments that if there is a 1yr ban for all the little fish…the big fish should have to wait at least 2yrs.

  24. - reformer - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 4:42 pm:

    There out to be a waiting period, but legislators aren’t about to adopt one, since it would take the bread right out of their mouths. The most successful legislators-turned-lobbyists earn far more after they leave elective office.

  25. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Jan 23, 13 @ 9:51 pm:

    Rich, why did you delete my comment? There was nothing gratuitous in it.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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