Switching sides

Switching sides

Former state officials with influence and access make for potent lobbyists, and that can be a problem.

Perhaps Jack Lavin got better advice than Barry Maram did, and everything is ship-shape from a legal standpoint for Gov. Pat Quinn's former chief of staff.

But it's still disconcerting to see a powerful state official go to work for organizations that have benefited or want to benefit from legislative action. It smacks of the insider politics that have made Illinois notorious among the nation's 50 states.

Lavin left the Quinn administration in the fall of 2013 to start his own lobbying business. That's a common practice among connected politicos, one that legislators have only halfheartedly tried to stop. Under the state's revolving-door law, certain state employees or former employees are barred from accepting employment or compensation from a private employer if that employee during the past year made decisions or awarded contracts affecting the new employer.

Now Lavin is a registered lobbyist for the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, a long-lasting powerful interest in state government, and an Effingham-based medical marijuana company, a rising interest since the passage of the law aimed at assisting those who are ill and in need of the pain relief that comes from ingesting cannabis.

Brooke Anderson, a Quinn spokeswoman, reports that Lavin sought legal advice before agreeing to promote his clients' causes in Springfield. Nonetheless, state Sen. Darrin LaHood, a Republican from Dunlap, said Lavin's move deserves scrutiny and the Legislature may need to toughen the revolving-door rules.

This is hardly the first time that moves from the public to the private sector have raised concerns. Just a month ago, Maram, the former director of state's Department of Healthcare and Family Services, was fined $100,000 by the Executive Ethics Commission for violating revolving-door rules. Maram took a job at a law firm after awarding that firm a contract to defend the state in a lawsuit. He initially insisted he had followed the revolving-door rules but ultimately agreed to settle allegations against him by paying the fine.

No allegations have been made so far against Lavin, and none may be. But the specter of public employees of his stature and influence leaving state government to represent private interests like this raises serious appearance problems — or worse.

Of course, appearance problems have never counted for much in state government. That's why the words "Illinois ethics" are an oxymoron that draws hoots from scandal-weary reformers.

Since appearances ought to count for something more, LaHood's suggestion to take a deeper look at the revolving-door syndrome, and perhaps toughen the law, is a good one.

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