Is it wise for the City of Rockford to contract with Mike Cassidy and McGuireWoods, the firm for which he works, to lobby on behalf of Rockford in Springfield? The cost is $10,000 a month, and aldermen voted 13 to 1 Monday to pay for the month of October.
I’ve been listening on the radio this morning to people grumbling about this: Could the aldermen lobby? Can the mayor lobby? Isn’t this what we have state senators and representatives for? Isn’t there a lobbying firm in Rockford that could do the job?
Yes, aldermen can and do lobby. Every once in a while they go down to Springfield on a bus and visit senators and representatives. Yes, the mayor lobbies. He goes down to Springfield and Cassidy has meetings set up for him. State senators and representatives also lobby, but they have many other things to do. And let’s say you’re a Republican senator or rep, as all but one of our area legislators are. You’re not going to get very far lobbying Speaker Mike Madigan or Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats. And Rockford’s lone Democrat, Rep. Chuck Jefferson, has limited influence.
Coming down on a bus with 40 people doesn’t impress anyone under the Capitol dome because so many groups show up every day, you can’t tell who’s who. Are these people in the blue shirts from the Shelbyville Farm Bureau, or the Rockford Chamber of Commerce? Oh, wait, they’re the school teachers from Collinsville. The Farm Bureau people are in the red shirts.
Obviously, this kind of lobbying has only a tiny impact.
That’s why Rockford contracts with Cassidy. First, he used to work for the Speaker and is intimately familiar with how the office works. And nobody should forget that Mike Madigan is the single most important and powerful man in Springfield. Madigan has a special place for Rockford in his heart because it was home to one of his mentors, Rep. Zeke Giorgi.
Second, Cassidy is literally all over the Capitol building at the same time. I’ve never seen a guy move so fast. It’s freaky. The last time I was in the Capitol, I had no sooner gotten in the door than someone tapped me on my shoulder. I turned around. It was Cassidy. He already knew I was coming and he told me what things of significance were happening that day.
Good lobbyists have to be in the Capitol EVERY DAY lawmakers are in session, ALL DAY. They have to know what is happening in every committee room, every hearing, what might come up and what might not.
They also have to know how all the state departments work, and they have to know the key people in each one. They have to know how to influence the governor, or at least know how to read the Pat Quinn tea leaves. And they have to work in connection with other lobbyists, like the guys from the Illinois Municipal League, for instance.
Winnebago County also has a lobbyist, Kip Kolkmeyer, and they work together on legislation sought by both the city and county.
Up here in Rockford, few people have any idea how state government works, which is one reason we have historically had no clout in the Statehouse.
If you saw that film when you were in civics class called “How a bill becomes a law,” just wipe it from your memories, because it’s a lie.
In reality, lobbyists have lots to do with what goes into a bill before it becomes a law.
Let’s say that Rockford wants Cassidy to help the city get $5 million for a capital project. The city also wants him to line up votes to pass two other bills favorable to the city’s interests. He may have to build a coalition with legislators from other cities and work with mayors and businesses who also want the bills passed. Everything in Springfield is about getting enough votes to pass something that the governor will not veto. And that ain’t easy.
In Illinois government we have the infamous “shell bills” that literally are little more than a title. Or they may have language that can easily be stripped out and new language inserted. They move through the formal “how a bill becomes a law” process of hearings, first readings, second readings, etc.
Lobbyists and lawmakers work to try to get certain language into these bills, which don’t usually hit the floor for final passage until the final few days or hours of a legislative session.
If you’re not in the kitchen when the sausage is being made, your ingredients won’t go into the final product. It’s that simple. And that’s why Rockford hires a lobbyist. Just as other cities, counties, unions, business groups and utilities do.