Illinois lawmakers cashing in big with lobbyists, mileage and per diems -

Illinois lawmakers cashing in big with lobbyists, mileage and per diems

( -- Illinois lawmakers are among the highest paid in the country. They also have extraordinary perks, including what one critic calls the "icing on the cake."

Illinois legislators receive a base salary of around $68,000, plus a generous pension if they qualify for it. In addition, they can thousands of dollars in bonus money for chairing a committee or assuming a leadership position. They also get mileage reimbursements, and many lawmakers receive more than $5,000 a year in per diem, which is the taxpayer funded daily cost of living for doing their job.

The "icing on the cake," as Kristina Rasmussen of the Illinois Policy Institute calls it, are the fancy wine and dine dinners bought by lawmakers who presumably hope to influence a legislator's vote. In our story, we focused on Alton Senator Bill Haine who repeatedly received expensive dinners, including ones for $70, $80, even $90 in recent years.

One meal in 2010, paid for by a lobbyist for medical insurance giant Humana, was reported as costing $240. But, after we questioned Haine about it, a lobbyist refiled the expense as costing just $60. Apparently, no proof was required to show the meal cost $180 less than what was reported several years ago.

Sen. Haine has repeatedly told me he doesn't vote for or against a bill based on the way a lobbyist treats him. And, during our interview on February 13, he told me he was going to keep a closer eye on allowing lobbyists to buy him expensive dinners.

Then, just a few hours later, a lobbyist bought him a $50 dinner. Haine claimed he agreed to the dinner 6 weeks earlier, was joined by other lawmakers, and didn't want to break the date.  

You can search for lobbyist gifts and see who received them and how much those gifts cost by using this link for the Illinois Secretary of State's website.

Tomorrow, we'll publish a detailed list of pay and perks for all lawmakers in the Illinois legislature.

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