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Question of the day

Friday, Apr 16, 2021


The City of Rockford pays a lobbyist to advocate on its behalf, and city officials and local lawmakers say that’s a good thing.

Exactly one week ago, the BMO Harris Bank Center got millions from the state, but few saw the work behind the scenes in Springfield.

“We use our lobbyist in a very efficient and effective manner and try to maximize the return on investment for us,” Rockford City Administrator Todd Cagnoni explains.

For the last decade, Rockford has paid Michael Cassidy, who is now with his own firm, Zephyr Government Strategies, to lobby and advocate for the city.

“Typically, on an annual basis, our Legislative and Lobbying Committee, in conjunction with our City Council, approves a number of priorities for our lobbyist to focus on,” Cagnoni says.

Rockford City Council approves Cassidy’s contract on an annual basis. A couple weeks ago, it re-upped his $120,000 contract for this year.

In addition to BMO Harris, Cagnoni says infrastructure improvements, youth outreach, and COVID grants for bars and restaurants are a few more recent successes for Cassidy, the city, and residents.

Local lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say Cassidy has been helpful in meeting the city’s goals.

* The Question: What are your thoughts on local governments hiring Statehouse lobbyists?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - NIU Grad - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:18 pm:

    I think it’s necessary for larger communities, especially above the 100K population mark. Theoretically, every municipality’s representative/senator should be filling this role…however, there seem to be many communities where the elected representatives aren’t on the same page as the local elected officials (often-times due to district boundaries that don’t cover the entire municipality).

  2. - TheInvisibleMan - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:18 pm:

    local governments are represented in the statehouse by the representative for their area.

    With a paid lobbyist a local government is now paying someone to do the job their representative is supposed to be doing.

    In the bigger picture, this looks to be simply a way to use the power of money, to get around that pesky democracy thing.

  3. - me - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:21 pm:

    $120K WOWZA. High-five Cassidy.

  4. - Responsa - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:26 pm:

    If you believe in the value and efficacy and ethics of lobsters then anybody and any entity should be able to hire them to represent their interests in the Statehouse.

  5. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:27 pm:

    I think local governments could and should hire lobbyists, or have them on retainer at least.

    A good example may be a downstate local municipality that may not be getting the necessary legislative work from the statehouse members in either chamber, maybe they aren’t in the majority as well.

    The idea of access (legal access through the processes and such) and having an advocate dedicated to the need(s) of the muni, that’s local government doing all *they* can to bring back to town needed resources, bricks and mortar or programs.

    How that looks for a muni of 10,000 versus 75,000 or higher, that may very well depend on what exactly are we talking about in this muni; big industrial hub, university home, agricultural lynch pin… sometimes it’s not size or relative “worth”, but a boon to that town of 10,000 or 75,000… it could mean their immediate future or its immediate crisis.

    Like anything, not all things are one size, but like shoes, we need the size that best fits.

  6. - ;) - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:28 pm:

    Necessary. Especially when they don’t have their own liaisons, and even when they do, the lobbyist is necessary to help out and provide much needed knowledge.

  7. - slippery slopes - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:30 pm:

    For many of the local governments I have been involved with, the job of the lobbyist is more along the lines of “information provider”

    Since bills move quickly, are gutted, rewritten, and pass with little notice, it is very difficult to keep on top of what is going on in Springfield. With the volume of bills and changes to them, a local rep may not know why a bill is good or bad for certain constituents unless they read every bill. If they are not on a committee, they likely will not see a bill until is passes out of the committee.

    Whenever I have talked to a rep / senator about their prior vote on a bill /issue, their answer is almost always “why didn’t you tell me you had a concern with the bill? or I didn’t hear from anyone that the bill was an issue”

    So the job of getting bills in front of local governments and letting them know why they might be a concern falls on hired hands.

  8. - Father Ted - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:44 pm:

    I’ve never had a problem with it. A good lobbyist pays for themselves many times over. If the local government is right-sizing its contracting and doing its due diligence, lobbying is a very good investment.

  9. - Been There - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:46 pm:

    In full disclosure I represent a muni. That being said I definitely think they get their money’s worth from us. Reps and Senators each have a lot of different mayors and other officials in their district. Trust me that being able to remind them of your muni’s concerns and needs while in Springfield is worth it.

  10. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:49 pm:

    I would explicitly want to know what the rest of his client book looks like before I would sign off on approving $120,000 to hire an individual lobbyist that just started his own firm.

    For six figures which likely makes him the city’s most well compensated employee I would like to know what kind of full time services he is providing to the city. I would also want to know who his other clients are and who he is trying to court as clients so that I could gauge his level of conflict of interest.

    I also presumed that the Illinois Municipal League had a greater role than it might have.

    And the real question is, does a municipality need to continue to pay a former Madigan staffer a six figure salary to have a place at the table now that Madigan is gone?

    With his presence being lifted from our government , perhaps legislators will find themselves better able to do their jobs and use their district staff for what I thought would be their intended purpose.

  11. - Mugs - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 3:08 pm:

    While a legislator’s first responsibility is to his or her district, statewide issues and committee responsibilities are close behind. A local government lobbyist certainly helps fulfill that first responsibility by coordinating action between the two chambers and utilizing ties to other legislators, to staff and to other lobbyists. As pointed out, a lobbyist can be an invaluable information conduit between a municipality and its legislators. In my experience, cities that retain a lobbyist fare better under the dome than those that expect their legislators to be mind-readers.

  12. - Illinoisan - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 3:34 pm:

    The mayor of Rockford makes $124k and Michael Cassidy makes $120k? I have a hard time believing that a lobbyist provides as much value to the city as the mayor. Rockford should work more closely with its legislators to advocate for their interests and save their taxpayers some money.

  13. - Father Ted - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 3:39 pm:

    “I have a hard time believing that a lobbyist provides as much value to the city as the mayor.”

    It’s not like specialized expertise has anything to do with what jobs pay, right? Why do surgeons make more than nurses?

  14. - Bear3 - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 3:56 pm:

    Hiring an advocate for your cause and/or view is the correct way to go for and makes the most sense for the legislator and you.

  15. - Frank talks - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 4:03 pm:

    Necessary. Almost 7000 bills have been filed this year alone. Does every municipality want to have a full time healthcare/pensionable/per diem/mileage employee heading down to Springfield?
    How many mayor’s are full time? How many Village Manager’s are running staff/department heads and cannot be constantly testifying or following up on multiple grant funds?
    Cities pay $100k+ just to do employee searches for Police Chiefs, Fire Chiefs and City Managers.

  16. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 4:03 pm:

    ===Why do surgeons make more than nurses? ===

    Surgeons and nurses participate in a highly regulated licensing process. To be fully licensed as a physician in the State of Illinois a person has to attend and graduate from a medical school and then obtain a spot in a residency program. The typical path to this is at least 4 years of under graduate education, followed by 4 years of medical school and clerkship rotations, followed by 3 to 7 years of a residency program.

    In Illinois a licensed physician is technically surgeon so we can pretend like the minimum length of time is eleven years of post secondary education — but for most surgical specialties you’re looking at something more like 14 or 15 years of post secondary education which isn’t accounting for any fellow ships.

    There are different licenses given to nurses, but just generally speaking one can become a registered nurse with an associates degree, but without a specific kind of license usually a nurse has 1 to 3 years of post secondary education.

    If you want to defend the idea of paying a lobbyist $120,000 you absolutely can do that but I would encourage you to not make light of one of the most regulated professions in the country that requires years of academic preparation to meet the bare minimum requirements for licensing.

    Especially if we’re comparing physicians to elected officials and lobbyists. There’s no education requirement to serve in congress. There’s no education requirement to serve in the legislature. There’s no education requirement to be a lobbyist. There’s actually very little regulation or control over that process at all — and worse yet you don’t actually have to deliver a good product as an elected official or a lobbyist if you’re good at being convincing or in Darren Bailey’s case, charming racists and QAnon followers.

    No matter how successful they look the lobbyist can still just be a grifter. I would love to get paid 6 figures to go talk to people whose ability to get re-elected is based off of how the people who live in the city I am lobbying for feel about how they’re doing.

    And even if I was terrible at my job, in the whole of the legislature, how many representatives or senators are going to actually take a political posture of, “Well you know what, [censored] Rockford.”

    But back to my point. Physicians are a big deal. To get to be one you have to be an elite student in high school, college, and succeed in medical school and win a residency position when every year there are more applicants than positions.

    Lobbyists just think they’re a big deal. Sometimes lobbyists do important work. Sometimes they help a bill take the best form. But sometimes they’re just taking money to watch a process that was already going to happen happen and then take credit for it.

    So, lets not try to elevate lobbyists to the level of physicians. And lets not pretend like they’re actually better than the people who were elected by their constituents to serve in office.

  17. - Former Bloomington Resident - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 4:10 pm:

    Of course, it makes perfect sense for local governments to hire their own lobbyist. If this question were asked another way: “Should Chicago hire their own lobbyist?”, I don’t think many people would be disagreeing.

  18. - Red Ketcher - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 4:13 pm:

    Ask Grayville

  19. - Boomerang - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 4:29 pm:

    Just remember:
    - No way Rockford pays him that sum unless they are getting many times in return.
    - If everybody could do this job for $120k, everybody would.

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