Gov. Bruce Rauner’s former campaign manager is now working for Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul, but that’s not Chip Englander’s only new gig.
The political strategist has joined the Chicago office of Michael Best Strategies LLC, a Wisconsin-based lobbying start-up that’s trying to break into Illinois.
This isn’t the first time a top official or political aide, perhaps looking to leverage his or her clout and connections, has gone to work for a lobbying firm.
But this move is notable because on the campaign trail Rauner criticized that revolving door and a day after taking office, on Jan. 13, signed an executive order that bans state employees from working for a lobbying firm for one year after leaving state government. “Business as usual is over in Illinois,” he said at the time.
Englander was never a state employee, so the order doesn’t apply here.
He isn’t a registered lobbyist but the Michael Best web site says he “anchors the practice in Illinois.”
Still, the question remains: Is it hypocritical of Rauner to block ex-state employees from doing what a top aide is doing?
And how will Rauner manage the potential conflict of interest when Michael Best lobbies the governor’s office, as it indicated in state filings it plans to do?
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover says, “Chip Englander is not a registered lobbyist, nor is or was a member of the administration. . . . There’s nothing else to say.”
We asked to speak to Rauner directly and never heard back.
Englander didn’t return messages.
In addition to campaign manager, Englander was a senior advisor to Rauner’s post-election transition committee, but state records show he wasn’t paid with tax dollars.
Rauner’s political committee paid Englander a total of $376,391, from March 2013 to November 2014. That included a lump sum payment of $80,333 a week after the Nov. 4 election, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections web site.
Englander joined Michael Best as a senior advisor. The firm is an affiliate of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, a Milwaukee-based law firm that supported the governor.
A political committee controlled by the law firm donated $25,000 to Rauner’s campaign fund in May 2014, according to the elections board.
Michael Best’s only Illinois registered lobbyist is Kayleen Carlson, who has worked for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) but apparently has no lobbying experience, according to the Michael Best web site.
She didn’t return messages.
In a statement, Michael Best executive Joseph Olson says, “We are excited that Kayleen and Chip are part of the team. They bring extraordinary federal and state experience to the practice.” He declined to elaborate.
State records show Michael Best has gotten off to a fast start since registering as an Illinois lobbying entity for the first time on Jan. 26. In less than two months, the firm signed satellite TV providers Dish Network and DirecTV and five other clients.
Michael Best is not the only lobbyist working for Dish Network and DirecTV. In all, the two companies employ a total of seven other firms.
Representatives from Dish and DirecTV declined to answer questions about Michael Best, as did another client, Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA), a national trade association based in Washington, D.C.
Instead, the SBCA issued a statement that says the group and “its member companies including DIRECTV and DISH Network, hires a number of advocates on behalf of their millions of customers to ensure truthful, accurate information reaches government decision makers across the country.”
The belief is that the industry is gearing up to fight the so-called “TV tax.”
State Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago) says he may introduce legislation that would impose a monthly fee on the state’s 1.3 million satellite subscribers.
Illinois Senate Democrats floated a similar proposal in 2012. It passed by a narrow margin but the legislative session ended before the Illinois House, led by Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), took any action.
Trover says Rauner hasn’t commented on the proposed “TV tax,” but “our position has been clear – before revenue is discussed, government reform is essential.”
Turner says he wasn’t aware that Englander’s lobbying firm was working with the satellite industry. Regardless, he’s hopeful that Rauner would give the idea a fair shake.
“All new revenues should be given some sort of consideration,” he says.
This column – a regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times – was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9035.