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Illinois Policy Institute employee sues Madigan, Cullerton

SPRINGFIELD — An employee of the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute sued the two Democratic legislative leaders and their respective press secretaries Tuesday after being denied credentials that would allow access to the House and Senate press boxes.

Scott Reeder, whom the Illinois Policy Institute describes as its “journalist in residence,” claimed in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Springfield that his First and 14th Amendment rights had been violated by the decision.

Reeder, who writes columns distributed to newspapers by the Illinois Policy Institute-affiliated Illinois News Network, was denied floor privileges in mid January.

House and Senate rules bar floor credentials for those who lobby, as the Illinois Policy Institute has in the past.

Both chambers distribute the credentials to media organizations like the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and Associated Press, among others. Floor access gives print and television reporters access to state lawmakers when the House and Senate are in session.

“You are ineligible at this time to obtain a Senate media credential because you are employed by the Illinois News Network, which is part of and an assumed name for, the Illinois Policy Institute,” wrote Eric Madiar, chief legal counsel to Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, in a letter to Reeder rejecting his application for floor credentials.

“As such, the Illinois News Network is not per the guidelines ‘owned and operated independently of any industry, institution, association or lobbying organization,’” Madiar wrote in his Jan. 16 letter to Reeder.

In Tuesday’s lawsuit, Reeder alleged the no-lobbying prohibition has not been evenly enforced since floor privileges were granted to reporters for the Chicago Tribune despite it being a registered lobbying entity in Springfield in 2000 and hiring lobbyists in 2002 and 2003.

Reeder’s lawsuit described his employer, the Illinois Policy Institute, as a not-for-profit, “non-partisan public-policy research and education organization that promotes personal and economic freedom in Illinois.”

“Mr. Reeder writes his news commentary from a perspective that favors free markets and limited government – a perspective that he, the Illinois News Network and IPI believe is underrepresented in the Illinois media,” the Reeder lawsuit alleged.

But despite it being described as non-partisan, the group and its leadership veer frequently to the right.

It has received $500,000 in donations during the past five years from Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, the State Journal-Register reported last November.

The Illinois Policy Institute made two $275 contributions to the Illinois Republican Party in 2008, and its CEO, John Tillman, has been a donor to several Republicans over the years, including 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady in 2010, state campaign records show.