Former U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski, left, with his son, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois, in Western Springs in 2007.
Lobbyist Bill Lipinski earns millions from clients who also are getting aid from his son, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski.
In the eight years since he opened a lobbying practice, business has been good for former U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.)
Since then, he’s been paid $4.8 million — including $4 million from clients with business that goes before the U.S. House transportation committee where his son, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), now serves.
Dan Lipinski is the senior Illinois representative on the 59-member committee, which decides federal funding and policy crucial to public transportation agencies and private companies such as railroads. While Dan Lipinski says his father doesn’t lobby him, critics say the unusual relationship is problematic.
“The concern is that businesses who have interests pending before the [congressman] will look for any which way they can find to throw money at the feet of their family members,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Washington-based government ethics watchdog Public Citizen. “I would certainly view a business as much more friendly if my father was depending on that business for income.”
Holman previously urged lawmakers to change U.S. House Ethics rules, making them more in line with Senate restrictions on family lobbying. The House bars representatives from being lobbied by their spouses. U.S Senate rules are stricter, banning immediate family of senators from lobbying any members.
Dan Lipinski said his father pledged he won’t lobby him, which is beyond what’s required by House rules. That pledge doesn’t satisfy Holman, who points to what he sees as a conflict of interest.
Bill Lipinski’s clients and payments include the Chicago Transit Authority ($1.7 million), Metra ($763,000) and BNSF Railway ($891,000), federal lobbyist reports show. Freight trade group the Association of American Railroads was a client until 2013, paying $660,000.
“I don’t think his clients ever hired him to influence me,” said Dan Lipinski. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Indeed, those clients benefitted from Bill Lipinski’s help years earlier when he was a Democratic congressman and senior member of the House transportation committee his son now serves.
“It’s pretty clear my father, with 22 years in Congress, all those years on the transportation committee, that he was hired because of his knowledge,” Dan Lipinski said.
In recent years, it’s been Dan Lipinski who is crucial to the CTA and Metra’s federal funding. In 2012, joined by two Illinois Republican colleagues, he helped defeat a proposal to eliminate $450 million in funding for CTA, Metra and Pace.
The younger Lipinski, first elected to represent Illinois’ Third Congressional District in 2004 after his father left office, now is trying to help Metra meet a federal mandate to install safety systems to prevent accidents.
In March, Dan Lipinski and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced legislation to provide $200 million a year in federal grants to help Metra and U.S. railroad operators pay the cost to install the safety system.
The elder Lipinski discussed train safety grants with the top Democrat on the member of the committee, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the same month, according to a lobbying invoice Bill Lipinski submitted to Metra for his monthly $10,000 fee.
In his 2014 contract proposal to Metra, Bill Lipinski said he “has worked closely with virtually every key current decision maker who might impact Metra.”
Bill Lipinski, who runs his one-man lobbying practice from his Western Springs home, didn’t respond to interview requests.
In a monthly report to Metra in September, Bill Lipinski said he spoke seven times with key congressmen to get a handle on a pending transportation funding bill. His findings: “They all say there will be a bill, but some say October, some say November and others say January 2016. I think it will be January 2016,” Lipinski said in his brief report.
Asked why Metra contracts with the ex-congressman, a spokeswoman for the commuter rail agency said: “We need the best lobbyists working on our behalf. We believe Bill Lipinski is at the top of that list.”
During his two decades in Congress, Bill Lipinski was the “go to” member of the Illinois delegation to bring federal transportation dollars home to Chicago and the state. In the 1980s, he got the federal government to fund CTA’s Orange Line to Midway Airport.
In 2000, Lipinski helped secure $832 million in federal funds to improve CTA’s Blue and Brown lines and expand Metra.
Lipinski picked up CTA and Metra as lobbying clients in 2007. CTA pays him $160,000 a year for state and federal issues, lobbying records show. Lipinski helped bring an “unprecedented” amount of federal funds for capital projects during the past four years, a CTA spokesman said.
Dan and Bill Lipinski each work on transportation issues with key former staffers — Michael McLaughlin, now CTA’s deputy chief of staff, and Jason Tai, a partner in another firm that lobbies for Metra. McLaughlin and Tai were chiefs of staff to both Lipinskis.
With six of the country’s seven national freight lines, Amtrak, CTA and four commuter lines running through it, the Lipinskis’ Southwest Side Chicago and suburban congressional district has more miles of train tracks and more railroad crossings than any other in the U.S.
One of Bill Lipinski’s signature achievements in Congress was to set up the legislative framework for a rail improvement program, Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE).
The goal was to untangle the gridlock caused by freight and passenger trains sharing tracks — many of them in his district — resulting in long delays.
The elder Lipinski helped craft the law creating a program of large transportation earmarks, which his son later used to get an initial $100 million in funding. Dan Lipinski has since helped CREATE get $236 million in additional funds.
In 2007, Bill Lipinski registered to lobby for the railroad association, BNSF and Metra — all beneficiaries of CREATE.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Chuck Neubauer and Sandy Bergo. They can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 427-8330.
Photos courtesy of the Sun-Times.
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