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State commission discusses best ways to regulate lobbyists, ethical standards following corruption investigations

Springfield, IL - Illinois could soon see new laws on ethics and lobbying. A commission dedicated to that issue met Wednesday morning in Chicago, after a week full of reports on former Quincy lobbyist Mike McClain's controversial 2012 email discussing a rape cover-up and ghost payrolling.

Most of the discussion today centered around two questions: What is a lobbyist and how can the state better regulate their daily activities?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines lobbyist as one who conducts activities aimed at influencing or swaying public officials and members of a legislative body on legislation. But that definition may have small changes depending on where you live.

"Lobbying means for compensation and on behalf of another person, attempting to influence a county official, county appointee or county employee with respect to any county matter," said John Mirkovic, Cook County Clerk's Office Deputy Clerk of Policy.

The Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform has about two months left to complete a report with recommendations to change laws in the wake of several corruption scandals. The commission was created following federal investigations into Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-IL) 23rd District, former Rep. Louis Arroyo (D-IL) 3rd District, Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-IL) 11th District and Chicago Alderman Ed Burke.

"While there are some registered lobbyists who undertake activities that are appropriate, not all registered lobbyists do," said Illinois Municipal League Executive Director Brad Cole. "It's just like not all federal, state and local elected officials do things they should not do."

Chicago recently expanded the definition of lobbyist to include members of nonprofit organizations, a move that could cause some tension when large groups arrive at the Capitol for lobby days.

"Does the public really need to know the names of 150 people who are stipend," asked Chicago Board of Ethics Executive Director Steve Berlin. "Or do you satisfy the public need for transparency if you just know the name of the organization and its principles and the fact they do pay stipend individuals?"

Members pointed out many local bodies of government don't register, report or acknowledge their lobbying activities for legislation, administrative action or procurement.

Mike McClain's name was never mentioned during the hearing, but members of the commission referenced recent news reports as the need for changes sooner rather than later.

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Mike Miletich

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