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DuPage officials defend lobbyist spending
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/22/2008 12:10 AM

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DuPage County officials say the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent on lobbyists last year is a value buy.

"We spend $18,000 a year to make sure we get our fair say in matters of the state," said West Chicago Mayor Michael Kwasman. "Last year, our lobbyist got us out of the water commission, which got us back $1.6 million. That's not a bad return on our investment."

Even some former critics of lobbyist spending are seeing the light.

"It's money well spent," said Naperville City Councilman Richard Furstenau. "The last time I was complaining a lot because we were spending $35,000 a year and getting nothing for it."

Naperville switched lobbyists in 2006 and authorized an annual contract of $60,000 for Government Affairs Specialists, city officials said. Furstenau said the lobbyists have been instrumental in pushing through bills important to the city as well as other bonuses.

"They've got all kinds of access to the Democrats (who control the General Assembly)," he added.

Many government officials said they got more bang for their buck last year because of the extra long legislative session.

In 2007, six DuPage County governments combined to spend more than $360,000 on lobbyists, according to a report released Monday by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. The county board, health board, election commission, recorder, forest preserve and state's attorney were listed in the report.

The DuPage County Board topped that list at $115,830 on two lobbying firms.

"The bottom line is it was certainly a very good investment this year because the (mass transit) bill passed," said county board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom.

That bill raised the county's sales tax by half a percentage point and provided emergency funding for public safety jobs that would have been cut otherwise.

Schillerstrom said neither he nor the county board had control over lobbyist spending by other entities.

"Some of them probably need lobbyists more than others do," he said. "We may not need as many lobbyists as we have, but elected officials certainly have the authority to hire them and we really don't have any legal say over any of them. Any power we have would be political."

He argued the fact that just because only the Cook County Board and state's attorney's office hired lobbyists in 2007, didn't mean it was being run better.

"I would put the way DuPage is being run any day against how Cook County is being run and we're going to come out pretty far ahead," he said.

DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said his annual bill of $36,000 for Roger C. Marquardt & Co.'s lobbying services is a bargain.

"I've had over 120 pieces of legislation that I've actually gotten passed, and I actually get the compliment often that I get this all done with so little," he said.