Chicago Board of Ethics Finds 8 Candidates Improperly Used City Property During Election

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

At least eight candidates in the Feb. 28 city elections violated Chicago’s Governmental Ethics Ordinance by using city property in their campaign advertisements — but none will have to pay a fine, the Chicago Board of Ethics determined Monday.

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The board also unanimously voted to declare that it is prepared to find probable cause that two other candidates violated city ethics rules, and gave those former candidates 10 days to rebut the board’s preliminary findings with evidence.

None of the former candidates were named by the board, in keeping with its rules.

The board determined all of the violations of the city’s Ethics Ordinance during the campaign were minor in nature. That means the former candidates found to have violated the rules will receive confidential letters of admonishment from the board, and a warning that subsequent violations could trigger fines.

The board conducts a three-part test to determine whether a violation of the ordinance is minor: “whether the board would still be upholding the spirit of the ordinance; whether a reasonable person familiar with all the facts would consider the violation technical and not substantive in nature and extent; and whether the violation is part of a pattern with respect to the person whose conduct is described in the request,” according to the board’s rules.

The maximum punishment for breaking the Governmental Ethics Ordinance is a $20,000 fine per violation.

The board took no action on two separate but similar complaints, sending them to a future board meeting to be resolved. 

Two other complaints were dismissed. In one case, the apparent violation was committed in a campaign advertisement crafted and paid for by an independent expenditure committee. Those committees are not controlled by the candidates and are not subject to the city’s governmental ethics committee.

The other complaint was dismissed after the board determined that the advertisement did not use any actual city property — just property that had an “apparent resemblance” to property owned by the city, which includes the city seal and various insignia and logos, officials said.

The board’s unanimous action on Monday resolves the bulk of complaints made to the board amid an especially hard-fought campaign for Chicago mayor and City Council that prompted Chicago Board of Ethics Chair William Conlon to warn all candidates not to use images of uniformed Chicago police officers, firefighters or city personnel in campaign advertisements.

Chicago Police Department policy prohibits officers from engaging in political activity while “wearing a uniform or any part thereof which would identify the individuals as Chicago Police officer, or use property of the Chicago Police Department.”

U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García edited his first television advertisement in the race for Chicago mayor on Jan. 25 to remove images of the candidate talking to two uniformed officers while promising to get tough on crime.

Representatives of the Chicago Police Department confirmed to WTTW News that the two officers featured in García’s ad are under investigation.

The People’s Fabric, an anonymously run blog that focuses on Far Northwest Side politics, reported that a complaint was filed with the ethics board against Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th Ward) the same day the board issued the warning. Nugent defeated Denali Dasgupta, a data researcher who had the endorsement of the progressive organization United Working Families.

A mailer sent out by Nugent, who represents Sauganash, Forest Glen and Mayfair as well as parts of North Park, shows her alongside a man dressed in the Chicago Police Department’s distinctive light blue button-down shirt with a Chicago Police Department patch visible on his shoulder, navy tie and navy pants.

Nugent, who was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, declined to answer questions about the warning by the board in response to a request from WTTW News.

The People’s Fabric also obtained an advertisement sent out by Anthony “Tony” Ciaravino, a Chicago police officer who ran to represent the 11th Ward, but lost to Ald. Nicole Lee.

The bulk of the advertisement features a picture of Ciaravino, in uniform, policing what appears to be a large protest in downtown Chicago.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department told WTTW News the department had launched an internal investigation into Ciaravino based on his ad.

Ciaravino did not respond to an email message from WTTW News sent to his campaign.

In an unrelated case, the Chicago Ethics Board voted unanimously to fine a lobbyist $10,000 for failing to re-register as a lobbyist or to terminate their status as a lobbyist at the start of 2022. The lobbyist was not identified, in keeping with the board’s rules.

“The individual had been sent multiple notices of the requirement to do one or the other,” according to the board’s determination. “Once the individual pays the fine, they will be able to re-register as a lobbyist should they wish to do so.”

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

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