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DuPage County Board member concerned about lobbying contract

Naperville Sun

Wednesday, August 14, 2013  |  Article  |  By: Hank Beckman for Sun-Times Media

DuPage County (33) , Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a) , Legislators (former) (58) , Lobbyists (12a) , Secretary of State (80) Cullerton, John--State Senate, 6

A lobbying contract sparked a discussion about ethics Tuesday at the DuPage County Board meeting.

In question was the renewal of a $120,000 contract to All-Circo Inc. for lobbying services before the Illinois General Assembly.

Board member Liz Chaplin (D-Downers Grove) objected to the contract, because All-Circo’s owner, John Kelly Jr., also happens to be the husband of Julie Kelly, former paid staffer for DuPge County Chairman Dan Cronin’s political organization.

Citing “the appearance of impropriety,” Chaplin voted against moving the contract out the Ethics Ordinance Subcommittee.

Among All-Circo’s corporate clients are Archer Daniels Midland and CVS Caremark and government clients including the village of Crestwood and the Orland Fire Protection Service.

John Kelly has also served as campaign manager for former Cook County Assessor James Houlihan, and as advisor to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Senate President John Cullerton, all Democrats.

Before the regular County Board meeting, Cronin, a Republican, strongly defended his choice of All-Circo.

He noted the firm’s association with prominent Democrats and defended its record of getting results for DuPage County in Springfield. He said during the last legislative session, DuPage County attained eight out of nine of its legislative priorities.

“(Johh Kelly) is the best lobbyist in Springfield,” Cronin said.

Cronin called Julie Kelly knowledgable and hardworking, and credited her with providing valuable expertise in matters relating to policy initiatives.

He said that she began working on his campaign as a volunteer, but gradually took on more responsibility, working on issues such as his ACT (Accountability, Transparency and Consolidation) initiative and issues involving the DuPage Water Commission.

“How else was I supposed to remunerate her,” he asked.

Chaplin stressed that she was not accusing Cronin of doing anything illegal, but still questioned the perception of the arrangement.

When Cronin put the question directly to Chaplin between meetings on the proper course of action, Chaplin replied, “keep her on the campaign, but don’t use John Kelly’s firm.”

Cronin strongly disagreed and so did other board members who spoke on the issue.

“This contractor has done a very good job,” Robert Larsen (R-Warrenville) said, noting that the criteria in awarding contracts should be whether the contractor is suitable for the service to be rendered.

Larsen also pointed out that Julie Kelly’s service to Cronin ended several months before.

Gary Grasso (R-Burr Ridge) agreed, saying, “I don’t see it as an issue.”

At the Legislative Committee meeting, county staff produced figures showing savings of $3 million for consolidation of government, $3 million for nursing homes and another $3.6 million for transportation, all made possible they said by county lobbying efforts.

The contract passed the full County Board. Chaplin failed to call for a roll call vote on the matter, but she still had misgivings about the arrangement, saying it could “lead to distrust” of government.