Forget about the budget, forget about Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda,” forget about the almost unprecedented animosity during the spring legislative session between Democrats and Republicans.
The most talked-about issue under the Illinois Statehouse dome last week was a directive from one of the governor’s top staffers to all state agency directors.
The agency directors received an order from the Rauner administration last Wednesday demanding that they and their staffs not meet or talk with any lobbyists unless the governor’s policy office had first OK’d the communications. The directors were also told to inform agency “stakeholders” that they didn’t really need to hire lobbyists anyway.
The governor’s press office refused several entreaties to comment on the ban.
“We have continued concern about outside interests’ attempts to influence the use of state resources and state policy,” wrote Rauner’s Deputy Governor Trey Childress last week.
“As an extension of our efforts to curb the influence of these interests, we want to send a message loud and clear that constituents and stakeholders need not employ a lobbyist to voice their concerns or needs directly,” he continued.
“Until further notice, please coordinate with your department’s contact on the Governor’s policy team in advance of any meeting between your senior team members and registered lobbyists.”
When most people think of lobbyists, they think of them lobbying elected officials, particularly legislators.
But quite a few lobbyists have built careers exclusively lobbying state agencies. And many, many others regularly reach out to agencies on behalf of their clients or association members occasionally or even regularly.
Agencies write rules that impact pretty much every business and every group in Illinois. So, most hire lobbyists to make sure their voices are heard and they aren’t harmed.
Also, some groups and businesses receive state grants, for things like job training, or for providing human or other services, or they rely on other state money. No government ever runs smoothly all the time, so glitches can happen. And when they do, people often turn to their Springfield associations to help fix the problems.
So, adding a layer to this age-old process has the potential to really muck things up. It will add time and hassle.
And, most folks don’t have the ability or the time to deal with our vast government bureaucracy. That’s why they hired lobbyists and/or joined statewide associations in the first place.
But there’s another angle here.
The Democratic Party controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for twelve straight years.
That meant many Republican lobbyists were out of luck as Democratic staff, campaign operatives and even legislators decided to take up the lobbying business and existing Democratic lobbyists greatly expanded their businesses.
And after Gov. Rauner won his election last November, several Democratic state agency honchos left to lobby the folks they used to work with.
Rauner’s people obviously don’t want Democrats having contacts with their agency folks without them knowing about it. Controlling the bureaucracy is a very difficult task.
Rauner is running the most top-down controlling governor’s office I’ve ever seen. So, this is at least partially designed to prevent surprises from happening down below.
But it will also mean that the governor’s office, which is thickly populated by former Republican campaign workers, will be able to lock out any Democrats they want.
So, those who employ Democratic lobbyists – or even Republicans who don’t show sufficient subservience and tribute to the governor – may very well soon ask why they’re paying those folks when they can’t get anything done.
Most lobbyists were shocked at the governor’s order, but some almost immediately came up with a plan to get around it.
Instead of contacting the agencies directly, they’ll ask their favorite legislators to make the calls. But that obviously won’t work for those who don’t lobby the General Assembly.
The Democrats fully exploited “the spoils of war” when they were running everything. The Republican governor is now doing the same, but in a particularly Raunerish way. Legislative Republicans are already bending over backwards whenever he commands. He’s now extending his power over much of the rest of the Statehouse crowd.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.