Prominent Lightfoot Supporter, Business Owner Pays $5,000 Ethics Fine for Lobbying City Hall Without Registering

A Chicago businessman who gave tens of thousands of dollars to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign committee and won the right to operate parking lots near Wrigley Field, the United Center and Guaranteed Rate Field paid a $5,000 fine to resolve charges brought by the Chicago Board of Ethics that he violated the city’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance, officials announced Monday.

Carmen Rossi, who also owns several Chicago nightclubs and holds the liquor license for the Lollapalooza music festival, lobbied the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department on behalf of his firm, Chicago Parking Solutions, LLC, even though Rossi was not registered to lobby for the firm, according to the settlement agreement he reached with the Chicago Board of Ethics.

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Rossi's spokesperson told WTTW News he simply reached out to a city official for information, and did not engage in lobbying.

"Sadly, their action will only discourage small business owners from engaging BACP with inquiries about an already complicated and confusing licensing system,” Rossi's spokesperson said,

Rossi’s firm won a contract in February 2022 to operate parking lots on 13 properties owned by the Chicago Public Schools near the sports stadiums, including at 10 elementary schools and Lake View and Lincoln Park high schools.

But the firm was denied the business licenses it needed to operate those lots, prompting Rossi to send Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Ken Meyer an email in March 2022 asking him to expedite the licenses. 

Rossi’s firm got the licenses in June 2022, after the city’s municipal code was changed to allow private firms to operate parking operations on property owned by the Chicago Public Schools.

In 2022, Rossi was a registered lobbyist for four firms, but not for Chicago Parking Solutions, according to an online database of city lobbyists maintained by the Chicago Board of Ethics. Rossi has not registered as a lobbyist in 2023, records show.

In his response to the board, Rossi disputed that the email he sent to Meyer constituted lobbying, since Meyer did not have the authority to issue the business license his firm needed. Rossi also asserted he had a First Amendment right to communicate with city officials, whom he noted encouraged Chicagoans to reach out for help.

The city’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance requires lobbyists to disclose their clients within 14 days of engaging in an act of lobbying, and allows the Chicago Board of Ethics to levy fines of up to $1,000 per day until the lobbyist registered.

Rossi’s contract to operate the parking garages and lots extends through 2024.

Rossi, who was appointed to the Commission on Landmarks by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, first registered as a lobbyist in 2019. In 2011, Emanuel issued an executive order that prohibited him and future mayors from taking campaign contributions from lobbyists that is still in effect.

Since 2019, Lightfoot’s campaign fund received a total of $68,500 from companies affiliated with Rossi — but returned $44,500 after the Chicago Sun-Times published a story questioning whether the contributions violated that executive order.

A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not respond to a question for comment from WTTW News.

The Sun-Times has also reported that several violent incidents occurred at Rossi’s nightclubs downtown and in River North, but city officials did not move to shut them down, as allowed under city law.

As a city contractor, Chicago Parking Solutions cannot give more than $1,500 a year to any city candidate, prompting Lightfoot’s campaign to tell the Sun-Times she will return the $2,500 contribution her campaign got from the firm on June 30.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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