A recent survey of Chicago business leaders showed over 90 percent believed city government engages in some form of cronyism.
A July 18 report from Project Six, a new corruption watchdog headed up by former Chicago Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan, helps to show why.
The report finds more than two-thirds of Chicago aldermen took in donations that appear to be in violation of the city’s campaign finance rules. Those rules prohibit donations over $1,500 from registered city lobbyists, vendors of the city or its sister agencies, and businesses or individuals who have certain types of legislation pending before City Council.
While working for City Council, Khan’s office released a similar report showing more than half of city aldermen violated campaign-finance rules in 2013. No one was held accountable for those violations, and City Council shut down the office of the legislative inspector general shortly after the report’s release in 2015.
So why is it taking a group outside city government to provide basic checks on aldermanic corruption?
The Chicago Board of Ethics, which has the authority to review political contributions, has not conducted a publicly reported campaign finance investigation in nearly a decade, according to Project Six. This task should be conducted at least annually, and violators of campaign-finance rules should be called out and disciplined.
Project Six’s report breaks down the details of suspicious campaign cash by alderman. One of the worst offenders is Alderman Ed Burke, 14th Ward. Given that Burke has been a member of City Council since 1969, one would think he’d know the rules better than anyone.
But in 2015, he took in more than $36,000 in contributions violating campaign-finance rules. Most of the illegal donations came from vendors giving over the limit of $1,500 to Burke’s campaign fund.
It should be noted that Burke runs a law firm that earns millions of dollars in property-tax rebates for corporate clients in Chicago, 48 of which did business with the city or its sister agencies in 2015, according to a Chicago Sun-Times investigation.
Given his track record of pay-to-pay politics, it’s unsurprising that Burke led the charge to water down an ordinance giving Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s office authority over City Council earlier this year.
While the longest-tenured alderman in Chicago clearly has no interest in changing his ways, rank-and-file members of City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel should own up to the body’s blatant and widespread contempt of the city’s ethics rules.
Rectifying this problem will require stricter enforcement of basic good-government policies already on the books, as well as more proactive strategies to police aldermanic activity.
Residents deserve as much.
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