The City of Chicago today announced a three-month delay before applying new rules for nonprofit employees to register as lobbyists. The ACLU of Illinois and other groups have opposed these rules because they are burdensome and raise troubling issues of equity and free speech.

Carefully drawn lobbying rules are important tools for promoting government transparency and curbing corruption. But Chicago’s lobbying ordinance has long been among the broadest in the country, covering a large swath of political speech that has nothing to do with corruption. Anyone making even one contact in an attempt to persuade the City to take some action may have to register as a lobbyist. “Lobbying” includes communication with not only the Mayor or aldermen, but with any official or employee in any City department. It needlessly chills Chicagoans from providing their input to those who govern them.

These extraordinarily broad rules are especially burdensome for nonprofit organizations who will have to register employees who have even occasional contact with the City, even if state law and federal law do not consider them to be lobbyists. 

The ACLU of Illinois, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law have written letters to the Mayor and Ethics Board about the new rules (attached below).

Today, the ACLU of Illinois issued the following statement:

“We asked the City to delay this ordinance by at least six months in order to allow small advocacy organizations – many of which assist individuals with few resources to advocate for their own communities’ priorities – to be included in the amendment process. We are disappointed that the City has opted for a shorter timeline of three months. We are skeptical that this is enough time to receive community input and make the substantial changes that are needed.  

The new rules erect a barrier for the very communities most deeply affected by government decision making - those working to make fundamental change in their neighborhoods. There is no evidence that non-profit advocacy on behalf of such communities has anything to do with the sweetheart deals and corrupt practices that this ethics reform was meant to address.

We will continue to work with the City and other nonprofits to ensure that the core problems of this law are addressed. Given the City’s reluctance to make concrete commitments, however, we will also explore other options to ensure that everyone has access to the political system in Chicago.”