Clare Kelly, speaking at a city meeting in 2018.

One citizen’s demand that Evanston require people who seek to influence city decisions to register as lobbyists got a chilly reception at a City Council Rules Committee meeting Monday night.

Clare Kelly, an opponent of high-rise developments, said such an ordinance would let residents know when efforts were being made to sway the views of elected officials and city staff.

But asked by Mayor Steve Hagerty if she could give a specific example of a situation that has occurred that she thought would require such an ordinance, Kelly said that no, she couldn’t.

“This seems like a solution in search of a problem,” Hagerty said. But Kelly insisted that it would serve to restore trust in goverment.

In 2013 Kelly, then known as Clare Kelly Delgado, was one of two residents who sought to ban anyone seeking a zoning change from giving money to the campaigns of mayoral and aldermanic candidates, citing a contribution by Col. James N. Pritzker to the Mark Tendam aldermanic campaign. 

The city’s Board of Ethics rejected their argument that such campaign contributions violated the city’s ethics code.

Lobbyist registration laws are common at the state level and in major cities like New York and Chicago.

They’re also common in some midsize cities in California, and exist in at least one California town, Santa Monica, that, with a population of 92,306, is not a whole lot bigger than Evanston.

Such ordinances typically require lobbyists to report all contacts with city officials, and Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested it would mean that anyone who worked for a non-profit in town who he ran into at a coffee shop would end up having to report that contact.

“Where would you draw the line?” Wilson asked. “If you live in a tall building, are you going to have to disclose that your view would be obstructed” by a new building?

A Chicago-style lobbyist registration ordinance, Wilson added “would be overkill for a community our size.”

“We’re not full time,” he said of the city’s aldermen. “We don’t have staff meeting with people on our behalf. I don’t get lobbyists banging down my door.”

Tom Suffredin.

“You don’t understand the problem you’re trying to solve,” Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, told Kelly.

“Under lobbyist registration, none of us would be required to register.” Suffredin said. “Your regulation would limit the First Amendment rights of people out there, not us.”

Suffredin, an attorney, is registered as a lobbyist in Chicago and with the State of Illinois.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she understood why Chicago and larger cities have lobbyist registration rules, but she didn’t see a need for them in Evanston.

The lobbyist registration issue was presented to the committee as a discussion item and no action was taken on it.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Not an outrageous idea
    I don’t necessarily agree with Clare Kelly’s views on high rises, for example, but I do agree with the gist of her proposal here. It’s telling that the Alderpeople tried to shoot down this suggestion, arguing that it’s not necessary because they “only work part time”? You know when people say, “nothing going on here, just move along”, something’s up. That Alderman Wilson is quoted saying: “We’re not full time … We don’t have staff meeting with people on our behalf. I don’t get lobbyists banging down my door.” Well if that’s the case, what harm in having a lobbyist registration? Should be a short list, if this is the case. But Wilson’s argument is really a deflection. Because Alderpersons work part time, they’re only subject to corruption on a part time basis?

    That said, I think the suggestion here is bit misguided. Rather than a lobbyist registration requirement, all city contracts must and should have provisions where the city’s counterparty represents and certifies in their contract that no one employed or affiliated with them made a donation or gave gifts (over a certain limit) to any city employee or elected official within the past [two years/last and current election cycle]. The pay to play laws are in the federal laws and the vast majority of state, county, municipality laws. If it’s discovered that a company violated this law, they would have to pay penalties and withdraw from the contract and be liable for any damages suffered by the City. I hope Evanston already has this requirement, but I don’t know where to pull this information yet.

    Bottom line: if some elected official in Evanston were to have their palms greased, they should be penalized along with the party that did the greasing. For example, Illinois requires businesses to register on a web site to disclose whether any of their employees or officers had made political contributions if they have contracts with the State that exceed $50,000.

    I also find it strange that Hagerty dismisses this suggestion as a “solution looking for a problem.” Um, we’re in Illinois, and even though I’m liberal politically, I can’t say there is no corruption in this state. Alongside Louisiana, I’d have to think Illinois is up there for number of disgraced politicians. So to say receiving large political contributions does not affect the policy platform of an elected official is willful blindness at best.

  2. Voters as lobbyiist
    Regarding Clare Kelly’s suggestion, would voters speaking at ward meetings be considered lobbyist?

    1. Depends …

      Hi Dan,

      That would depend on the precise wording of the ordinance.

      Such ordinances seem to vary a lot from one community to the next. Among other things, it would depend on how broadly the ordinance defined having a financial interest in a matter.

      If you’re the petitioner asking for a planned development approval, obviously you have a financial interest.

      But if you’re a neighbor who thinks the project will reduce your property values — do you have a financial interest?

      Or if you’re a business that hopes the residents of the new building will bring more customers to your store — do you have a financial interest?

      — Bill

  3. No private conversations re: public policy
    Given what’s going down with the Harley Clarke mansion and the Evanston Lakehouse & Garden proposal, I think Clare Kelly is trying to address the source of a major problem in Evanston (and most every community in the U.S.)—too many private conversations and behind-the-scenes decisions, often resulting in a change of the rules of civic engagement.

    I don’t think registered lobbyists are the answer. I do think eliminating 99% of private conversations on public policy by City officials—both staff and elected—would do the trick. Basically that means confining all public policy business to public meetings, as currently constituted. Period. The only major change I would add to the City’s public meeting load is to require all aldermen to have regular ward meetings (minimum of 4/year) to be planned in conjunction with ward residents (whoever wants to be involved in planning—no special appointments). Conducting 99% of public policy business in public would actually reduce everyone’s time commitment to City government—staff, elected officlals, residents, and non-residents who think they have a legitimate reason to affect City of Evanston policy.

    And, yes, I mean no private phone calls or private emails on public policy—including the City’s ability to accept donations from private citizens, which is a questionable policy that has not been adequately discussed in public.

  4. Re: Not an outrageous idea
    I wonder whether contributions to people seeking office (i.e. aldermen, city clerk, etc.) is public, easily accessible information. It seems to me that if a business owner gives a large contribution to any given official, the public should know. Especially it that business person was to give such a sum to numerous aldermen.

    1. Contributions?

      Hi John,

      Campaign contributions are all required to be reported and are publicly accessible from the state Board of Elections website.

      — Bill

      1. Campaign contributions
        Illinois Sunshine is another very useful and user friendly site.

        During the March 2018 democratic primaries, you could monitor all the money that Mike Madigan
        and his allies gave to Jen Gong-Gershowitz’s campaign.

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