SPRINGFIELD — When it comes to his pledge to grow business in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner's presence in the Capitol has triggered an increase in at least one sector.
According to a review of state records, the number of lobbyists patrolling the marble-floored Statehouse is at its highest level in five years.
Some say the uptick is linked to having a Republican in the governor's office for the first time in 12 years, but others think a push by utility companies for favorable changes in state law is playing a role.
"With the new administration, there are those who do business with the state who feel the need to have more direct contact with executive branch employees," said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
In addition, the change in administration has left former members of Gov. Pat Quinn's inner circle and former lawmakers ready to cash in their connections working as lobbyists.
According to a review of state lobbying records requested by the Quad-City Times Springfield Bureau, 1,733 lobbyists registered with the Illinois Secretary of State's office from January through April.
The number is up from 1,700 during the same time period last year and up by nearly 100 lobbyists who registered in 2013.
It means there are nearly 10 lobbyists for each of the state's 177 members of the House and the Senate.
The numbers also show a move away from companies having their own, in-house lobbying teams. So far this year, there are 1,973 lobbying entities or organizations, up from 1,763 five years ago.
That's an indication that more businesses are outsourcing their lobbying efforts by contracting with specific lobbying companies, said David Weisbaum, director of the Illinois Secretary of State Index Department, which administers the state lobbying law.
Brady attributes some of the increase to the energy sector, in which major state utilities are looking to Springfield to help their profit margin.
"They are gearing up with more lobbyists to more effectively get their message out," Brady said.
Among businesses that have gone on a lobbyist hiring spree is Exelon Generation, which has assembled a team of 16 lobbyists this spring, up from eight last year.
The company is threatening to close nuclear power plants in Clinton, Cordova and Byron unless the General Assembly approves a plan that would guarantee utility power buys from low greenhouse gas sources, such as its nuke plants.
The roster of Exelon hires includes lobbyists with strong ties to both Republicans and Democrats. Former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady is on board, as are Eric Madiar and Ron Holmes, both of whom were top aides to Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
AT&T and its subsidiaries have a similarly large contingent of lobbyists as the telecommunications giant seeks legislation that would allow it to spend less money on the upkeep of its older landline infrastructure.
Among its army of lobbyists is former state Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline, and a host of contractors with strong Republican connections.
A key lobbying observer said he's not so sure the increase can be linked to the push by Exelon and AT&T.
"There's always something like that going on," said Keith Sias, a Springfield-based lobbyists with the Illinois Credit Union League.
Sias, who is heading up the Illinois Third House this year, which is an organization for Statehouse lobbyists, said he's not aware of any particular changes in state law that would have triggered more people to register.
When it comes to wining and dining lawmakers, the biggest spending lobbying organization so far in 2015 is the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which is headed by First Lady Diana Rauner. Reports show the group, which is a public-private partnership that prepares children for success in school and in life, has spent $132,415 to wine and dine lawmakers this year.
The Illinois Association of Park Districts has spent $87,151 this year on lawmakers and public officials as part of its lobbying efforts.