The new website on lobbying announced by the Cook
County clerk's office Tuesday will not by itself eliminate the influence
of moneyed interests on a county government with a reputation for
But it's a nice start.
The website, cookcountyclerk.com/ethics/lobbyistsonline,
known as Lobbyists Online, offers various bits of information about
lobbying in Cook County. You can find out who is lobbying the county,
who is being lobbied, what subject lobbyists are trying to influence and
how much they are paid.
These can be useful pieces of information, and they're
especially valuable for anyone with a deep interest in how county
government works. In a news release accompanying Clerk David Orr's
announcement of the website, David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for
Political Reform praised the site as "a model for other units of
government" and said it allows the public to "see it all - the good, the
bad and the mundane."
Actually, the site may be dominated by the latter, the
mundane, for a random tour of the information can be more than a little
confusing. You can, for instance, see that a certain lobbyist earned an
amount of money for trying to influence a particular county official
about a specific subject, from acquisitions to zoning.
By itself, that information may seem simply interesting.
But in combination with other information you have - if, say, you want
to see whether a county official's decision about a purchase or contract
was influenced by a special interest - a quick trip to the website can
give you insights to which you might otherwise be oblivious.
The greatest value of the site, though, is its move
toward openness. The fact that it makes such information accessible is a
signal of willingness to open its processes to the light of scrutiny by
a government not known for such candor.
Announcing the site, Orr noted that Cook County
lobbyists made more than $1.1 million in the first half of 2010, a
figure slightly less than that for the last half of 2009 but still
evidence of the value special interests see in trying to influence
government. In such an environment, the public constantly must find ways
to keep track of the pressures and influences on elected officials.
Lobbyists Online doesn't replace campaign finance
reports, budgeting information or a host of other regular operational
documents governments can and often do share. Indeed, residents
interested in the management of Cook County government - or any
municipal, school or other agency - should include all these in their
review. But, especially given Cook County's reputation for intrigue and
bloated spending, Orr's new public portal is a welcome tool for
monitoring local government and one any agency or county that deals with
lobbyists should consider.