By Jamey Dunn
Lobbyists are not currently being required to register with the state or report on their spending.
In the wake of a court ruling that barred the state from collecting increased lobbying fees that went into effect January 1, Secretary of State Jesse White’s office has pulled the lobbyist registration and reporting system from its Web site.
Both the ACLU and the Illinois Society of Association Executives sued White over the fee increase, claiming it was an unconstitutional tax on free speech.
Pamela Tolson, executive director of the Illinois Society of Association Executives, said she had already advised her members not to pay the increased fees after a court granted a temporary halt on collection. Now, she says lobbyists also may not be required to report their spending for the last six months by the deadline at the end of this month.
The increased fees were part of a bill aimed at creating more oversight into lobbyists’ activities. The new law requires them to file spending reports weekly while the General Assembly is in session and monthly when it is not. Under the previous law, reports are due twice a year.
Sen. Susan Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat, sponsored the bill. She said the increased fees are necessary to administer the reforms. However, she is concerned that some nonprofit advocacy groups may not be able to afford the higher fees. She said she hopes a compromise can be reached. “This never should have gotten this far,” Garrett said in response to the lawsuit.
The law is not specific on the details of executing many of the new requirements. It passes those decisions on to the secretary of state. Tolson said many of the associations she represents are concerned about the logistics of pulling off the ramped up reporting schedule, both on their end and the state’s.
It appears that White is washing his hands of the entire situation until the courts sort it out. If that doesn’t happen before next week, lobbyists will return to Springfield for the spring legislative session without having registered and unsure of what reporting requirements they face in the near future. (White’s website does say that after the court makes its final decision, lobbyists who register within two weeks will be retroactively registered from January 1.) So the result, for the time being, is that an attempt to create more transparency has led to having none.