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CHICAGOAcross Illinois on a daily basis, people are likely being paid to lobby governments without ever having to register as lobbyists or disclose any information.

It’s a reality that emerged Wednesday from the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform. Illinois state government, the city of Chicago and Cook County are the main entities that require lobbyist registration and disclosure. But there are hundreds of units of local government throughout Illinois. By and large, those entities have no such lobbying requirements.

“I think it’s naïve for anyone to think those are the only three places where lobbying is going on,” said Senator Elgie R. Sims, a joint commission co-chair. “If the public has the right to know in these jurisdictions, why shouldn’t it know everywhere else? We need a more holistic approach to lobbying throughout Illinois, because it seems to me there’s a lot probably going on in the dark right now.”

For instance, commission members heard testimony regarding a DuPage County requirement that is largely unenforced and other counties that abandoned the issue after court challenges.

State leaders responsible for recommending ethics reform after recent scandals held their second hearing Wednesday in Chicago on the Lobbyist Registration Act. The first hearing in the series focused on rules and protocol for the committee.

In response to ongoing federal investigations, the General Assembly created the joint commission for the purpose of recommending reforms to ethics laws.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the commission heard testimony from various witnesses regarding lobbying registration, including the City of Chicago, Illinois Municipal League, Illinois State Association of County Chairs, the Secretary of State’s office, and good government groups including the Better Government Association, Center of Illinois Politics, Change Illinois, Common Cause and Reform for Illinois.

While they detailed lobbyist laws and procedures that are in place in a few jurisdictions, it was acknowledged that there are no such requirements in the vast majority of cities, counties, school boards, park districts and other government entities.

Joining Sims as co-chair of the commission was State Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago).

“It is clear that we need more transparency in lobbying throughout Illinois,” Harris said. “It is important that we know exactly who the lobbyists are, who they work for and who they’re lobbying, so that we can ensure there are no conflicts of interest to ultimately prevent wrongdoing.”

The next joint commission hearing will focus on the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act.

The commission faces a March 31 deadline for delivering recommendations to the General Assembly.

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