Tribune investigation exposes Emanuel patronage politics
Research found more than half of the mayor’s top 100 donors benefitted from city government, “receiving contracts, zoning changes, business permits, pension work, board appointments, regulatory help or some other tangible benefit.”
The Chicago Tribune has found a “pattern of mutually beneficial interactions between the mayor and his major supporters” through a new investigation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s public schedules and $30.5 million in campaign contributions since 2010.
The report, titled “Rahm Emanuel counts on big donors, with many getting City Hall benefits,” lays out a discomforting blueprint of cronyism and pay-to-play politics in the Windy City. Research found more than half of the mayor’s top 100 donors benefitted from city government, “receiving contracts, zoning changes, business permits, pension work, board appointments, regulatory help or some other tangible benefit.”
The Tribune detailed one such case where the mayor lent clout to Magellan Development Group’s proposal to build a multi-use building along the Chicago River, conducting a news conference himself to publicize the project’s value to the city. The proposal had not yet been fully vetted through the city’s permitting process.
Four months earlier, Emanuel received nearly $50,000 in donations from Magellan’s CEO, eight Magellan employees and one spouse.
The report noted several other companies, all along North Clark Street in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, that count themselves among Emanuel’s top donors and also needed permission from City Hall for development.
Emanuel’s relationship with city law firms appears even more unseemly. To get around the mayor’s ban on donations from businesses seeking city contracts, Emanuel’s aides attend fundraisers – organized by partners at major firms – to collect checks from the firms’ employees individually. These favored law firms then negotiate with the city for tax subsidies for their clients, as was the case for DLA Piper, or receive city bond business, as was the case for Katten Muchin Rosenman.
The Tribune took a bold stance in its allegations against the mayor, saying:
“Neither Emanuel nor his top donors are hindered by his narrowly drawn executive orders restricting campaign contributions from people seeking city business. State conflict of interest and campaign regulations likewise do not address the type of symbiotic relationship between the top political donors and the powerful mayor, who dominates the City Council, controls every city agency and maintains close relations in the White House he ran as chief of staff just a few years ago.”
Cronyism has long been the norm in city government. Chicago earned the title of “most corrupt city in America” in a 2012 study by The University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs. It’s time Emanuel act to create tougher barriers against corruption within his administration.