More than half of Chicago aldermen took illegal campaign cash in 2013

The Second City is second to none when it comes to government corruption. And Chicago aldermen seem hellbent on keeping it that way.

Chicago City Council’s chief watchdog says 29 city aldermen received a total of $282,000 in illegal campaign contributions in 2013.

That means out of Chicago’s 50 elected aldermen, 58 percent violated campaign-financing rules, according to a report issued by Chicago’s Office of the Legislative Inspector General on Nov. 13.

Chicago’s ethics ordinance prohibits elected officials from receiving campaign contributions in excess of $1,500 from individuals who have done business with the city or its sister agencies within the previous four years, individuals seeking to do business with the city or its sister agencies, and lobbyists.

These findings underscore a troubling oversight problem within City Hall.

First, the city’s contract with Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan expires on Nov. 16, at which point his office will cease operations.

“They’ve had months and months and months to make sure that the replacement was up and running so this office could move over smoothly to a different operation,” Khan told WTTW.

“Yet here I am packing up my desk with no one here to give my material to.”

Second, the office is effectively powerless to hold aldermen accountable for wrongdoing. Khan’s office was not allowed to start its own investigations or take anonymous complaints, among other restrictions.

When it comes to ensuring public officials are acting in the public interest, the status quo has failed Chicagoans in spectacular fashion.

More than 30 Chicago aldermen have been convicted on federal corruption charges over the last 40 years, according to analysis from political researchers Thomas Gradel and Dick Simpson.

But will Khan’s parting blow spur elected officials to action?

The answer remains unclear.

An ordinance that would have Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office assume the responsibilities of Khan’s office (a measure Khan himself supports) has been held up by two of the city’s most powerful aldermen – Ed Burke, 14th Ward, and Carrie Austin, 34th Ward – since April. It currently boasts 23 co-sponsors.

When members of Chicago media asked Burke about this issue at a recent question-and-answer session, Burke walked out of the room without responding.

Burke’s silence, and the decadeslong indifference of Chicago City Hall to its corruption crisis, speak volumes.

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