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Cook County's lobbying ordinance is too restrictive

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Daily Southtown

THE ISSUE: County board approves ordinance placing restrictions on lobbying done by county officials. The purpose, the board says, is to keep an eye on spending.

WE SAY: While we endorse fiscal responsibility, we feel the ordinance unfairly hampers officials who were elected by the people to represent them, not just the county board. Last time we checked, offices like the Cook County sheriff, the Cook County clerk and the Cook County treasurer were elected. The people who were voted into those offices were entrusted by the public to oversee their branches of county government and use their supposed expertise when it came time to make important decisions.

Cook County commissioners seem to think that those elected officials should be answering more to them than to the voters who put them in office. The county board last week unanimously passed a bill that could restrict the amount of lobbying the officials do in Springfield.
The ordinance requires the officials to get the written consent of the county board before they are allowed to do any lobbying. The stated intent of the ordinance is to keep an eye on spending. If a county official's lobbying leads to state legislation that in turn leads to a need for increased expenditures in a certain area within the county, the county might be hard pressed to find the money, board members argue. Under the ordinance, if an official does not get the consent, any increased costs to the county as a result of the legislation would have to come from the official's department budget.
We are all for fiscal responsibility, and if there is one governmental body that needs it, it's the Cook County Board, where free spending over the years has created a huge deficit and put a burden on county taxpayers. However, we believe this ordinance restricting lobbying is unfair. It allows the board to put a leash on certain county officials, and it in effect opens the door to the possibility of punitive political action being taken against officials who may not be in good standing with members of the board.
The fact is, no legislation passes in Springfield overnight. Any county board member worth his or her salt should have an eye trained to the state capital to be on the lookout for any bills that could impact the county in any way, shape or form. If some proposal upsets board members, they have ample time to let their feelings be known before a final vote is taken. We'd hazard a guess that county Commissioner John Daley, who sponsored the lobbying ordinance, has a friend or two in Springfield who'd listen to him if he objected to a bill.
As it is, the county board must approve the department budgets of the elected officials. If legislation pushed by an official is going to cause a bump in the department budget, the official could be told by the board to cut somewhere else to make up for it. A threatening ordinance isn't needed for that process to play itself out.
We feel the ordinance is a step back for representative government. These officials are elected and should be able to express themselves candidly without interference from others. If it turns out they're backing useless or expensive legislation, the voters have the right to send them packing. In the meantime, we urge the county board to reconsider the lobbying ordinance.

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