Lunch is a lot more than a midday meal when you run a nonprofit watchdog organization like the Better Government Association.

In our world it’s an important opportunity to explain our mission to potential supporters.

And once a year, in the fall, we invite our friends to break bread with us at an annual luncheon, where we recap our work over the past 12 months, spell out our goals for the next year, and thank them for contributing the dollars that make it possible.

In recent years more than a thousand people have attended the events, which raise a third of our annual budget.

As most of you know, the BGA shines a light on government and holds public officials accountable by investigating, litigating, educating, advocating and communicating.

It’s labor intensive, especially our in-depth investigations, which is why we plan the luncheons carefully to maximize revenue and deliver a strong message.

Each year we invite a prominent guest speaker and choose a deserving honoree, and given the nature of our work — we toil at the busy intersection of government and politics — our luncheons frequently make news.

  • In the fall of 2009, novelist and former federal prosecutor Scott Turow called on the Illinois General Assembly to attack the state’s “culture of corruption” by adopting the recommendations of a post-Blagojevich reform commission, including limits on campaign contributions.
  • Our honoree the next year was retired Supreme Court Justice and Chicago native John Paul Stevens, who took us behind the judicial curtain to criticize the majority on the court for striking down gun control laws, and to call his 1976 vote to uphold the death penalty his all-time worst judicial decision.
  • In 2011, CBS anchor Scott Pelley played his riveting “60 Minutes” interview with a whistleblower who exposed the negligence that contributed to BP’s massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf.
  • Pelley’s CBS colleague Lara Logan joined us the following year, a month before the 2012 presidential election, and stunned the audience by accusing the Obama administration of misleading the public about a increased terrorist activity in Afghanistan, and failing to punish the extremists who killed a U.S. ambassador in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
  • Last year’s featured speakers were former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who urged citizens to speak up when they suspect public officials of misconduct, and NBC anchor Lester Holt, who showed us a video clip from a soon-to-be-aired “Dateline” story on New York City’s failure to adequately protect public housing residents from mold and other environmental threats.

Our 2014 luncheon is this week, and it includes a conversation with former “Meet the Press” host David Gregory about upcoming state and national elections, and the importance of vigilant civic and media watchdogs who hold public officials accountable.

The second topic reflects the essence of the BGA mission, and it’s a recurrent theme at all of our luncheons

This year we’re also honoring our good friends and stellar media partners at the Sun-Times for their great investigative reporting and generous support of our work.

And we’ll look at “BGA by the Numbers,” which summarizes the progress of our watchdog activities in the five years I’ve had the honor and privilege of leading the organization.

We may even introduce a new member of the BGA family.

It should be another interesting event, and to paraphrase an oft-repeated line from economist Milton Friedman, it’s not a free lunch.

In fact, the minute the tables are cleared we’ll start using the money we raise to elevate our fight against the government corruption and inefficiency that’s still too prevalent around the state.

That should burn off a lot of calories.

So bon appétit!

Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at or 312-386-9097.