Carrie Bradon Mar. 15, 2016, 3:55pm

CHICAGO – According to a report recently released by Cook County Clerk David Orr, 2015 marked a banner year for Cook County lobbyists.

During 2015, lobbyists registered within Cook County reported receiving nearly $2.95 million, the most ever reported by the county. Although lobbyists are required to file twice every year, some file but do not report any activity. On the other hand, other lobbyists do submit reports with detailed descriptions of expenses. 

 Sarah Brune, executive director of the nonpartisan nonprofit Illinois Campaign for Political Reform,  acknowledged lobbying is a controversial topic. But she said the Cook County report doesn't necessarily tell a complete tale. 

"I think that these numbers have to be taken with somewhat of a grain of salt," Brune said. "Some lobbying firms report their total earnings for the year, and they lobby the state, they lobby the city, maybe other municipalities, but they include it all in this number."

She explained that other lobbyists choose to only report what they earned within Cook County, making the values presented by the firms vague, as they could apply to a small or very large area.

She also expounded on the importance of clear requirements for lobbyists, as she said transparency can clean up many of the problems in the political process associated with lobbyists and the special interest groups they may represent.  She noted lobbyists can wield influence over lawmakers, but she said such problems could be solved with requirements for clear and detailed reporting. 

"It is troubling to see that the overall number is growing," Brune said. "In this time, during this election season, we see that the influence of money in politics is growing; and that influence doesn't end once the candidate wins the election and takes office."

Between 2013 and 2014, the compensation paid to lobbyists registered in Cook County declined by 16.6 percent, but as last year has showed, the trend was short-lived. In 2015, the amount of money paid to those lobbying Cook County government was about 25 percent higher than the 2014 totals. Among the highest paying clients of lobbyists who registered with Cook County's government in 2015 were inmate communications firm Telmate LLC and the Orland Hills Fire Protection District, which paid lobbyists $41,000 and $60,000, respectively, to promote their interests to Cook County government officials.

Larger county governments may contain more lobbyists and therefore, elicit more funds, but, while Cook County is the state's largest county, Brune said that she does not think issues related to lobbying are specific to the area. When asked about a county-to-county comparison, Brune stated that she did not have one, but felt that it would be an interesting study to conduct.

Brune said her organization will occasionally enlist the services of lobbyists, stating she did not believe all lobbying need result in negative actions. 

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