Key City Panel Advances Plan to Ban Lobbyists From Giving Campaign Cash to Mayors

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A key City Council committee advanced a plan Thursday to tighten Chicago’s ethics ordinance to ban registered lobbyists from sending campaign cash to Chicago mayors — and those running to be the city’s chief executive.

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The proposal, based on a unanimous recommendation by the Chicago Board of Ethics, now heads to a final vote at the City Council meeting set for June 12. Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) was the only member of Ethics and Government Oversight Committee to vote against the plan.

Chicago Board of Ethics Executive Director Steven Berlin urged the committee to advance the proposal in order to prevent the “erasure of 13 years of reform.”

The plan would enshrine into law a 2011 executive order issued by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel that sought to ban lobbyists from contributing to his campaign committee. The order sought to ban those found to have violated it from re-registering as a lobbyist, preventing them from pressing city officials on behalf of their clients.

The revised Governmental Ethics Ordinance would not only ban registered lobbyists from contributing campaign cash to the mayor of Chicago, but also ban them from financially supporting any candidate for mayor.

The measure would also ban any contributions from businesses to mayors or candidates for mayor that are at least 7.5% owned by lobbyists, according to the proposal.

Those who violate the ban could be fined three times the amount of the improper contribution — regardless of whether it was returned — for a first violation. Additional violations could also result in a 90-day ban from lobbying city officials, according to the proposal.

The debate over the proposal spiraled into a larger discussion of the role of money in politics, with Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) decrying the significant impact of funds from what they called “outside entities.”

“We are nibbling around the edges” of the real problem, Reilly said, calling some of his “colleagues wholly owned subsidiaries” of outside groups.

When Berlin offered to share the Ethics Board’s guidance on campaign spending by labor unions, neither Reilly nor O’Shea disputed Berlin’s interpretation of his remarks.

The Chicago Teachers Union is by far the most powerful and financially influential labor union in Chicago, and provided the bulk of the funds that helped elevate Mayor Brandon Johnson into office a year ago.

The Ethics Board determined unanimously in April that it had no choice but to dismiss enforcement actions against City Hall lobbyists who donated to Johnson’s campaign fund.

Four lobbyists — former Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward); John Dunn, a former aide to former Mayor Richard M. Daley; Michael Cassidy and Anthony B. Bruno — contributed a combined $2,200 to Johnson’s campaign account, Friends of Brandon Johnson. Those contributions were first reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Johnson has returned all of those contributions, said Christian Perry, the spokesperson for his political committee.

An attorney for the lobbyist found to have violated the executive order challenged the board’s determination, arguing that it was no longer in effect — or if it was, the Ethics Board had no authority to enforce the ban on registered lobbyists contributing to candidates for mayor.

That prompted the Ethics Board to ask the city’s Law Department to weigh in on the dispute, which asked Chicago-based law firm Jones Day to decide the issue.

In that opinion, Jones Day attorney Bethany Biesenthal determined that executive orders remain in effect even after the mayor who issued them leaves office, but found that it would require a change in city law for the Ethics Board to have the authority to hold lobbyists accountable for it by banning them from working as a lobbyist at City Hall.

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

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