(CBS) — Did you know your taxpayer dollars may be being used against you?
CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman found government agencies are paying millions of dollars to lobbyists hired to work against legislation resident may actually support.
Illinois homeowners pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation. But when a tax freeze was proposed in 2015, the bill was killed in Springfield — thanks in part to lobbyists hired by government agencies and paid for with taxpayer dollars.
“When contract lobbyists are being hired by municipalities to block that property tax freeze, that is absurd. It goes against the wishes of the people themselves,” says Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute.
His organization reviewed 2015 payments to 90 contract lobbyists hired by government agencies. They were paid $9 million.
The lobbyists included Alfred G. Ronan, the highest-paid lobbyist, who had 26 contracts that netted him more than a $1 million, according to the Policy Institute. Ronan’s former lobbying firm plead guilty to a bid rigging scheme and was fined $350,000, but he was not accused of wrongdoing.
Five school boards hired Ronan to lobby against a bill affecting school children in districts with consistently bad academic records. It would allow the state Board of Education to replace the school board members.
But taxpayers were also paying for lobbyists from the Illinois Association of School Boards to oppose the same bill. In effect, they were paying twice for the same service.
The bill was introduced by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.
Currie defends the legislation, saying it was necessary “because there were examples across the state of schools that just plain couldn’t get it together, and the result was that school kids were not learning what they should learn.
She says the measure was “pro kid” and “pro taxpayer.”
As for the millions in tax dollars spent on contract lobbyists?
“It’s a process that needs to be curtailed greatly,” Dabrowski says.
The school bill ultimately passed.
Ronan defended his position opposing both bills because they were too broad and would have harmed his clients financially or given too much control to the state. Ronan says he’s not surprised that he’s the highest paid of the contract lobbyists — he says he is the best.