Great FOI Idea: Lobbying records…

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The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago weighs in with a nice piece on the use of lobbyists paid for by tax dollars:

In a climate of austerity, transit agencies are shelling out millions for high-paid state and federal lobbyists. But whether riders are getting their money’s worth is elusive to prove.

Dispatching lobbyists to Springfield or Washington, D.C., is essential to get the ear of lawmakers, influence government policy and secure funding, transit officials say.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Daily Herald learned the following.

• Since 2004, the four transit agencies spent more than $12.8 million for 27 lobbyists. On several occasions, agencies employed the same firms.

• In 2009, a year of shortfalls and doomsday predictions, the four agencies paid 20 lobbying firms nearly $2.5 million.

• Lobbyists hired by the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, RTA and Pace have poured $1.8 million into state lawmakers’ election campaigns, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

• Transit officials claim money invested in lobbying has resulted in millions of dollars, but the transit system is perpetually short of funding for both capital and operating needs.

• If you want some way to independently measure what lobbyists do for their employers, good luck. Although lobbyists are expected to issue regular reports to transit agencies describing their activities, the Daily Herald’s request for that information was denied.

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