Chicago alderman under FBI investigation for misuse of campaign funds

Alderman Willie Cochran, 20th Ward, is under federal investigation for his use of campaign funds, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Sun-Times previously reported Cochran paid himself more than $115,000 from his campaign funds over a three-year period.

Chicago City Council is one of the most corrupt political bodies in the nation. Over the past 40 years, 33 of some 200 aldermen have been convicted on corruption charges.

This culture of misconduct shows no signs of slowing down. And the lack of seriousness in tackling ethics reform – or even enforcing rules on the books – within city government is disturbing.

A July report from the government watchdog group ProjectSix revealed 37 of 50 Chicago aldermen took illegal campaign contributions in 2015. The group also found 19 aldermen using private email servers for city business. A recent survey of Chicago business leaders showed over 90 percent believed city government engages in some form of cronyism.

And the city is the nation’s corruption capital, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Will Cochran be the 34th aldermen convicted of corruption since the 1970s? Time will tell. Given that he takes home a salary of more than $116,000 as an alderman on top of an annual pension of more than $56,000 from his time as a police officer, it may be concerning that he was also taking money from his campaign.

Regardless of the results of the investigation into Cochran, it’s clear Chicago government is steeped in a culture of corruption.

One might think this would spur an intense response from the mayor’s office as well as from reform-minded aldermen. This has not been the case.

After operating without any local watchdog for months following the departure of Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan in 2015, Chicago City Council in February 2016 passed a watered-down oversight ordinance submitting themselves to Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s ethics oversight.

But not to his auditing powers.

Given that Alderman Ed Burke, 14th Ward, led the charge in weakening that ordinance, many speculated the move was meant to shield the city’s $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation program – controlled by Burke’s Finance Committee – from close examination.

Until City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel get serious about following the city’s ethics ordinance and subjecting themselves to stricter oversight, stories such as Cochran’s will continue making headlines.

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