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No Law In Illinois Barring Lawmakers From Becoming Lobbyists

Story by WBGZ Radio

It's entirely legal for an Illinois state lawmaker to resign on a Friday and come back to the Capitol in Springfield as a lobbyist the next week. 

When Southern Illinois State Rep. Brandon Phelps retired in September, he cited health reasons for leaving his seat. Not two weeks later, he registered with the state to lobby his former colleagues, including his successor and cousin, Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Harrisburg. 

Illinois has restrictions on state employees going to work for companies that do business with the state, but lawmakers have no restrictions from representing those companies as a lobbyist the second they leave their elected positions. 

"Many of these retired lawmakers start up immediately in the lobbying profession," said former state Sen. Susan Garrett, who is now the chair of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

According to ICPR, Illinois is one of only four states that have no restriction on the revolving door between lawmaker and lobbyist. The transition isn't as seamless as it looks, Garrett said. 

"They no longer work for the taxpayers. They represent their clients, and they'll do whatever it takes to get their client's message across," Garrett said. 

In addition to Phelps, former state Rep. John Bradley and former Sen. Matt Murphy both recently resigned and became lobbyists in Springfield shortly thereafter. 

Garrett said that two recent attempts to pass laws that would reform the revolving door of lawmaker-to-lobbyist were both left to expire in the House Rules Committee, where bills that House Speaker Michael Madigan opposes go to die. 

Businesses aren't the only ones enlisting lobbyists. Municipalities, unions, and various groups of people with common interests will pay lobbyists to advocate on their behalf in Springfield. As of March, there are more than 1,500 registered lobbyists in Springfield. 

 

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