CHICAGO - A federal district court in Chicago late on Friday (February 12th) issued an order barring the State of Illinois from collecting a new fee that nearly triples the registration fee for organizations engaged in advocacy aimed at state legislative, executive and administrative officials. U. S. District Court Judge Joan Gottschall issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. The ruling means that the State of Illinois cannot collect a proposed $1000 registration fee from any individual lobbyists or organizations seeking to lobby Illinois officials.

The new law adopted by the General Assembly in 2009 increased the registration fee, from $350 for most lobbyists (not-for-profits paid $150) to $1000 for all lobbyists. Thus an individual organization, including the ACLU of Illinois, would pay a minimum of $2000 each year to register the organization and a full-time lobbyist. For the ACLU, the cost of registering the organization and its two full-time lobbyists increases from $1050 in 2009 to $3000 under the new law.

The case, ACLU of Illinois v. Jesse White was filed in federal district court in Chicago in December 2009. Secretary of State Jesse White is the named defendant because his office is responsible for administering the lobbyist registration program in Illinois.

In her decision, Judge Gottschall found that the State of Illinois simply could not justify the new dramatically increased fees. Currently, nine states and the federal government charge no fee for a lobbyist to register. Fourteen additional states charge an annual lobbyist registration fee that is no more than $150. While other states have sliding scales, Illinois' $1,000 fee per lobbyist is far out of the national mainstream.

Before the court ruled, the State acknowledged that there would be only a modest increase in expenses for overseeing the registration system (from $1.22 million to 1.362 million) that did not justify the near tripling of the registration fee for the ACLU and other non-profit organizations.

"The court's ruling makes clear that the changes to the fee structure results in a violation of First Amendment because it requires an unreasonable fee to engage in advocacy before the Illinois General Assembly," said Colleen K. Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois. "Paying this excessive fee would limits our constitutionally protected right to address the General Assembly and to deploy staff and other resources effectively."

The ACLU of Illinois is represented in this case by Edward Feldman, Diane Klotnia and Roger J. Perlstadtof the Chicago law firm Miller, Shakman and Beem, and by ACLU of Illinois attorneys Harvey Grossman, Adam Schwartz and Karen Sheley.