Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lobbyists Teach One Day: Get Huge Pension

Two Lobbyists Teach Just One Day

and Qualify for Huge Pension

Never Underestimate a Lobbyist.  Virtually everybody subscribes to the old maxim: "A day's work for a day's pay."  However, two Illinois lobbyists managed to use their insider's knowledge of pending legislation to turn a day's work into a lifetime of pay. With no prior teaching experience whatsoever, and only one day of  experience as substitute teachers, they will be able to retire with pensions of more than $100,000 per year because of legislation that was passed in 2006.  Here is how they "gamed" the system.

Gaming the System. The two have been employed for many years as lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and were able to take advantage of a provision in a law that allowed them to do this. Essentially, the law provided that union officials could count their years working for the union toward a teacher's retirement, if they also taught as teachers.

How They Did It. Because the law was written with no minimum requirements for how long a person had to work as a teacher, that one day of substitute teaching (for which the lobbyists earned about $100) was enough to qualify them for retirement within in the state teachers' retirement system. One lobbyist was able to count 16 years of previous union work toward his retirement calculations. Their work with the union has paid one of the lobbyists almost $250,000 in one year, which helps account for his humongous retirement pension.

The Role of Money. Lobbyist Money Poured In.  Although the bill was sponsored by Democrats, it received a tremendous amount of bipartisan support. It also attracted a huge amount of financial support for the legislators and the state's governor. The Democrats in particular were showered with campaign contributions by union lobbyists.  IFT campaign contributions during the 2006 elections reveal that the Democrats alone received almost $1.5 million in contributions from the teachers' union. How much might have gone to Republicans is not known, but the legislation that enabled this manipulation of the retirement system was passed by the Illinois House by a 109-6 margin and the Senate by a margin of 55-0, with one present. The now-infamous Rod Blagojevich (who received $515,000 in union contributions) signed the bill into law. 

You decide.  Although lawmakers insist that the money had nothing to do with their votes, this amount of money from a single contributor in one year makes the entire matter suspect.  And, whether the manipulation of the system by the two lobbyists was moral or not, it apparently was perfectly legal.  As Shakespeare once wrote: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."  And, in this case, it seems that the stench has spread across the Atlantic to our own country as well.

The full story is available online at The Chicago Tribune.

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