Lobbying for better policies

By SpencerRoush

It can take a hefty sum of money and strong support from all of the right people to become an elected official. Collecting donations to run a viable campaign may be burdensome for many politicians, which is where lobbyists and special interest groups come in to fill the money divide between candidates.

The problem is most of these lobbyists are working for corporate America to keep bad policies in place, leaving everyone else to suffer, according to reform-minded lobbyist Patrick Keenan-Devlin, but there are some groups working to counterbalance their efforts.

“I would argue that there is an ethics crisis in Illinois,” Keenan-Devlin said.

Keenan-Devlin ran for public office in the 18th district for state representative, but lost in the 2010 Democratic primaries. He has also worked as a lobbyist in Springfield, Ill., for five years in a group called the “Do-gooder Caucus,” which brings the general public’s interests to politicians’ doorsteps challenging them to make ethical changes to Illinois’ policies.

A lobbyist is “essentially a paid stalker,” Keenan-Devlin said, describing it as a tradition.

He has waited outside bathrooms to catch senators leaving the facilities in hopes of getting a few minutes to talk about his agenda. He said he works as a do-gooder lobbyist because of the ethics crisis and he serves as an educator to busy politicians.

Even though the Do-gooder Caucus has a presence in Springfield, Keenan-Devlin said for every “do-gooder” lobbyist, there are 60 others who are doing corporate America’s bidding. He explained it’s hard to compete with their efforts because Big Businesses have more money to attend parties, take government officials out to lunches and to contribute to campaigns.

“We don’t have as much money. We are completely out-numbered,” he said.

According to Keenan-Devlin, Illinois politicians have to raise thousands of dollars to win a small local election, so accepting money special interest groups has become commonplace for many incumbents and other candidates competing for an elected seat.

According to a Rasmussen Reports survey, 44 percent of likely voters said it is not possible to win an election in the U.S. without raising money from lobbyists, while 34 percent disagree. Twenty-two percent said they are unsure if it’s possible to win a political campaign without accepting special interest monies.

One of Keenan-Devlin’s latest initiatives with the Do-gooder Caucus was to help pass the Lincoln Act, which he drafted and found Senate sponsors for. However, the bill, which would have made Illinois a “clean election” state, died in committee.

Clean elections are meant to curb lobbyists from giving special interest money to candidates who may then give their support to the group after becoming elected.

Keenan-Devlin said the bill would free the candidate to only collect small donations and signatures from constituents. Once a certain number of small donations and support is reached, the state would give the candidate a check for $150,000. He said this still isn’t enough money for a candidate to run a winning campaign, but the state would continue matching donations after the initial check is given with varying matching ratios.

Keenan-Devlin said this may sound like a large amount of money, but he said it wouldn’t be, considering the benefits voters would reap from having “clean” candidates who aren’t vying for special interest support.

Currently, he said, gaining support and funds from special interest groups will often sway politicians’ vote toward bills that aren’t in the general public’s best interest, but rather that of top corporate giants.

However, Keenan-Devlin said not all politicians accept special interest money.

“It would be a detriment if we painted all politicians with the same brush stroke,” he said.

Keenan-Devlin has witnessed many politicians supporting bills meant to help the general public. He has also experienced the other side as a candidate vying for an elected seat. He said being an elected official is a difficult job and they may see 4,000 bills on the state’s Senate floor.

“We have a great tradition in Illinois of producing crooks and criminals as our public officials and candidates for office,” Keenan-Devlin said. “But we also have a really great tradition of electing men and women of great integrity.”