In looking back on Rahm Emanuel’s first year in office, we decided to examine one of his initial actions as Chicago mayor: signing an executive order prohibiting city lobbyists from contributing to his political campaign.
“The mayor wanted to separate himself from the money of those whose business is influencing government,” said Tom Bowen, who heads the mayor’s political action committee. “Sometimes those influences are not in the best interest of the people.”
So far so good — sort of.
Our review of campaign finance data and city lobbyist registration records shows that the mayor has not received contributions from registered city lobbyists since he signed that executive order.
However, our review also shows that between October 2010 and February 2011 (Emanuel took office in May 2011), Emanuel took in a total of nearly $12,000 in contributions from nine individuals who were registered city lobbyists, despite the campaign’s self-imposed restriction.
“We clearly made a mistake in some of these instances,” Bowen said after the BGA informed him of the contributions.
Four of the donations were returned within a couple of months. And Bowen said the remaining five will be returned. “Out of an abundance of caution, we’re going to return ones you’ve identified,” he told the BGA.
In addition, a number of Emanuel contributors have since registered as city lobbyists. Three registered one month after contributing to Emanuel during his run. Seven other contributors during the campaign have registered since Emanuel took office.
Donations from those 10 totaled just over $7,000.
Emanuel raised a whopping $14 million-plus in campaign cash during his mayoral run.
Pit bulls and lap dogs
Some watchdogs, like Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson, have sharp teeth, loud barks and long investigative leashes, thanks in part to the considerable power and authority of the office.
Ferguson is a pit bull who clings tenaciously to the pant leg of public misconduct, and his jurisdiction should extend to the City Council and sister agencies like parks and housing.
It doesn’t, but Ferguson still wields his investigative tools aggressively and professionally on the government terrain within his purview.
The same cannot be said of Tom Homer, the part-time IG for the Illinois Legislature, whose power is so restricted and his leash so short he is the epitome of a lap dog. Until 2010 he couldn’t initiate an investigation — he could only respond to outside complaints — so he never investigated lawmakers who used clout to get young people into the University of Illinois, chronic abuse of the legislative scholarship program, or apparent conflicts of interest between the public and private agendas of legislative leaders with lucrative tax law practices, including House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.
Homer can’t even recommend penalties when he accidentally trips over bad behavior. To his credit he’s been trying in recent years to get lawmakers to approve tougher ethics rules for themselves, and sharper teeth for his office. But “I am sorry to report,” he tells Public Eye in an email, that this reform package “was not acted on during the recently adjourned spring session.”
Round up the usual suspects. But wait — who controls the flow of legislation in Springfield? Madigan and Cullerton. So maybe, Mr. Homer, what we really need is term limits.