Arroyo arrest illustrates pitfalls of lawmaker-lobbyists

Unfortunately, in Illinois, it IS legal for an elected official to be a paid lobbyist, as long as they aren’t lobbying the same branch of government they were elected to represent.

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Then Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), left, in 2011; state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, right, in 2013. File Photos.

Then Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), left, in 2011; state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, right, in 2013. File Photos.

Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times; Seth Perlman/AP.

If this were a normal state with reasonable expectations and standards for the ethical conduct of public officials, the first reaction to the news of state Rep. Luis Arroyo’s arrest might have been:

What do you mean the state legislator was acting as a lobbyist on the side? How could that be legal?

Unfortunately, in Illinois, it IS legal for an elected official to be a paid lobbyist, as long as they aren’t lobbying the same branch of government they were elected to represent.

Opinion bug


Although barred by law from lobbying state government, Arroyo has been registered with the city of Chicago as a lobbyist since 2017.

It wasn’t until the Northwest Side Democrat crossed the line by allegedly paying a bribe to secretly help one of his city clients pass state legislation in Springfield that Arroyo found himself on the business end of a federal corruption complaint that was unsealed Monday.

Similarly, former Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) was prohibited from getting paid to lobby the city of Chicago before he left the City Council on May 31, 2018, but he had been registered as a lobbyist with the state of Illinois dating back to at least 2001.

Zalewski also is known to be under federal investigation in connection with his lobbying activities, although we don’t know yet whether that includes his work while he was still an alderman.

In both cases, though, the potential for conflict was obvious all along.

Maybe we can finally do something about it.

On Tuesday, Republican state Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon introduced legislation that would ban state lawmakers from getting paid to lobby local governments. Demmer would extend the prohibition to spouses and immediate family members.

“There is a clear conflict of interest for sitting lawmakers to perform paid lobbying work while in office,” Demmer said.

House Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer of Dixon in 2019.

House Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer of Dixon announces on Tuesday GOP legislation to tighten ethics rules on legislators and outside lobbying. Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, looks on.

John O’Connor/AP file

Demmer should consider amending his legislation to also bar local officials from being hired by private entities to lobby state government.

One notable example of the latter was former Cook County assessor and Board of Review Commissioner Joe Berrios, who turned his short-lived tenure as a state legislator into a lucrative side hustle as a lobbyist for the rest of his political career.

But Berrios wasn’t a trailblazer. 

Former state Rep. Al Ronan, was one of the first I can remember who wore both hats. Ronan was still in the Legislature representing a district in the city of Chicago when he first began lobbying city and county government. Nearly three decades since leaving office, he’s still going strong as a lobbyist.

Lobbyist and former legislator Al Ronan.

Lobbyist and former legislator Al Ronan. File Photo.

State of Illinois

I don’t mind former legislators or aldermen becoming lobbyists. I just don’t want them mixing the two while their first loyalty is supposed to the public.

There’s admittedly some danger here of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Arguing against my position is Cook County Commissioner Lawrence Suffredin, a lawyer whose lobbying practice long preceded his election to the county board.

“The question is do you use the power of your elected office to benefit yourself or your client,” said Suffredin, who in recent years has lobbied on behalf of Amazon, Chicago Teachers Union, National Elevator Industry and Chicago Bar Association among others.

Suffredin argues he has never abused his elected office in that way, and I should attest I have never seen any evidence of him doing so. 

Nevetheless, I’d prefer he did one job or the other.

In a similar vein, state Rep. Jaime Andrade makes an interesting case study of a legislator-lobbyist.

Andrade was a longtime City Council aide to Ald. Dick Mell, then took Deb Mell’s spot in Springfield when she came back to assume her dad’s 33rd Ward aldermanic seat.

Andrade is a nice guy, probably best known to many readers as the legislator who started driving for Uber in 2016 when lawmakers’ pay was temporarily halted in the budget standoff with former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Less noticed was that Andrade also started taking jobs as a registered city lobbyist with a smattering of clients.

Andrade said he does the same sort of things as he did for the alderman: helping people obtain liquor licenses, and zoning and building permits. It’s what he knows best, and he thought he should be paid for it.

“I’ve got to feed my family,” Andrade said.

“I don’t go down there and try to pass legislation,” added Andrade, noting he took a $30,000 pay cut when he resigned his city job to become a lawmaker.

Still, Andrade agrees with my basic premise.

He thinks no legislators should have outside income — as long as their pay is raised sufficiently to make it a full-time job.

It may finally be time for that.

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