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Bipartisan reform effort hits Cook County Board
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff

Cook County Clerk David Orr

 

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Published: 9/15/2009 12:02 AM

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Cook County Clerk David Orr and several Cook County commissioners will ask the county board Wednesday to require more disclosure of lobbyists' activities.

Orr and Chicago Democratic Commissioner Bridget Gainer unveiled what they called the Lobbyist Sunshine Initiative in a news conference at Orr's office in Chicago. Basically, it will demand lobbyists declare what they're lobbying for, before which elected officials and on behalf of what clients.

"Who is doing what for whom?" Orr said.

Aside from a new one-year hiatus imposed on any former county employees doing lobbying, the proposal doesn't toughen lobbying restrictions, but calls for more disclosure, Gainer and Orr said.

"It doesn't mean that lobbyists will stop," Orr said. "It only means there'll be more sunshine on the process."

Suburban Republican Cook County Board Commissioners Liz Gorman, of Orland Park, and Timothy Schneider, of Bartlett, joined in pressing for reform.

Orr added there are already requirements for lobbyists to report their activities, but this would streamline the process online and add teeth in the form of fines of $50 a day for the first 15 days and $150 a day thereafter for not reporting.

Gainer, who was recently appointed to replace Mike Quigley when he was elected to fill Rahm Emanuel's Fifth District seat in Congress, said it's intended to get county commissioners the information they need.

"The time to know all this information is when you are awarding the contract and when the vote happens," she said. Lobbying information would be included on agenda items. In effect, it would cast light on the sometimes-shady elements of awarding county contracts.

Orr said the online aspect - to be up and running within a year if the ordinance passes this week - is essential "so both the media and the public can act as a watchdog."

"It's all about transparency and disclosure," Gorman said. "It's important to restore public confidence to our constituency and to the taxpayers."

David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said it would create a stronger lobbying law than current state and federal statutes.

"Imagine that," Gorman added. "If Cook County is the model of ethics for lobbyists, that'd be a wonderful thing. That'd be a first."

Schneider said it complements an ordinance passed earlier this month cutting in half maximum campaign contributions from contractors to elected officials and those seeking county office.

Finance Committee Chairman John Daley was also signed on a co-sponsor of the lobbyist proposal, a promising sign for passage.

"I'm confident we'll get nine" votes, Gainer said, which would win passage on the 17-member board.