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SPRINGFIELD - The state is close to hiring a firm of well-known Washington, D.C., lobbyists to aid its efforts to bring a $1.4 billion experimental power plant to east central Illinois.

State documents show the nearly $300,000 job has been offered to Cassidy & Associates, a firm that counts former Illinois Democratic Congressman Martin Russo among its leadership team.

Their mission: Help lure to Tuscola or Mattoon the FutureGen project, a prototypical power plant that burns coal and pumps the harmful emissions underground instead of into the air. Both towns are competing with two in Texas for the project and the jobs it promises to create.

A representative from the lobbying firm didn't return calls for comment Friday. But published reports suggest Cassidy & Associates is one of the biggest firms in Washington, particularly known for delivering pet projects for its clients.

Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity spokesman Andrew Ross said Friday that the state is still working out the details of the $293,600 contract.

"It's not final yet, though," said Ross, who wouldn't answer other questions about why the state chose the firm over four other applicants.

According to state records, the firm's founder, Gerald Cassidy, gave $5,000 to Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign in 2002.

And according to a Washington Post report, Cassidy hired embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2004 even after he was exposed by the newspaper to have significantly overcharged Native American tribes for his services.

Cassidy fired him three months later, well before Abramoff was convicted.

But while the state may soon have lobbyists working Washington to land FutureGen, observers say the General Assembly must approve incentive package legislation for Mattoon or Tuscola have a shot.

Texas has already finished their incentives, and state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, says that means Illinois can try to one-up the Lone Star State.

"Their best and final offer is on the table," he said.

But with a final announcement projected for September, state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, wonders how long Illinois can wait.

"They're going to need to know what our final offer is," he said.

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