Public officials who are lobbyists routinely defend decisions to play both roles by saying they disclose their relationships publicly, as the law requires.
But the disclosure rules and practices in Illinois leave room for lobbyists to operate without public notice, leaving room for conflicts of interest, according to statements of economic interests of public officials, lobbying registrations filed with the City of Chicago, Cook County and the state, and records of state bills and local ordinances examined by Medill Watchdog, a journalism program at Northwestern University.
The investigation showed that the filings frequently are inaccurate. Both lobbyists and their clients are required to disclose their lobbyist-client relationships. In 242 instances, records show, lobbyists reported working for a client but there was no corresponding registration by the client.
Lobbyists also do not have to detail all of the money they spend lobbying public officials. Most lunches or other entertainment are reported, but other outlays are not required to be disclosed. The nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause Illinois compared Illinois’ filings to those in Pennsylvania and found that Pennsylvania lobbyists reported $470 million in expenditures in 2009, compared to only $1.3 million reported by Illinois lobbyists that year.
When lobbyists work as subcontractors to other lobbyists, as often happens, they are not required to identify the ultimate beneficiary of their efforts. They are required to report only the name of the lobbyist who hired them.
A result is a tangled web of connections.
The lobbying firm owned in part by Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, B-P Consulting, listed 10 clients on its disclosure reports in 2010. B-P Consulting also hired a lobbying firm owned by Brent Hassert, the former deputy minority leader in the Illinois House. Mr. Hassert listed eight clients that were not clients of Mr. Berrios. One of those clients was also a lobbying firm, Curry & Associates, which listed 26 more clients, and had a contract with yet another lobbying firm, Thomson Consulting, which had even more clients.
“There is no way of connecting the dots here, and that partly defeats the point of having disclosure,” said David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “It’s impossible in Illinois to figure out whom lobbyists are representing.”
The stakes are raised, Mr. Morrison said, when the lobbyists are, like Mr. Berrios, public officials, because voters cannot determine if their public acts create conflicts with paying clients.
Kristen McQueary contributed reporting to this story.