Emanuel friend, alderman’s husband both illegally lobbied mayor via his personal email, ethics board finds – Chicago Tribune
In 2012, the mayor reported accepting a house stay and transportation as gifts from Jim Abrams on his annual economic disclosure filing.
In King’s case, the ethics board determined there was probable cause for a lobbying violation in February, nearly two months after a Tribune story detailed how Chicago’s rich and powerful had used Emanuel’s personal email to request favors big and small.
“Hello Rahm. It’s Alan King, Barack’s buddy and Jesse Ruiz’s law partner over at Drinker Biddle,” King wrote Emanuel on May 21, 2015. “It was good seeing you in the suite at the Sox game on opening day.”
King, a member of a cadre of disc jockeys known as the Chosen Few who pioneered house music, had planned to hold the group’s 25th anniversary “House Music Picnic” in Jackson Park on July 4. Despite obtaining a Chicago Park District permit, the event was being threatened “due to some construction” on the picnic site.
“I apologize, but it is a very serious situation for me and my business partners, and I think you might be able to help at least to broker a solution,” wrote King, who could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
Emanuel responded less than a half-hour later by asking if King had contacted Michael Kelly, the Park District’s superintendent and CEO. About two weeks later, King wrote back to tell Emanuel that in working with the Park District and others, “I think everything is going to work out.”
“Please say hello to Amy from Sophia and me,” he wrote, referring to Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule. The mayor forwarded the message to David Spielfogel, then Emanuel’s top adviser, who responded, “First I’m hearing. Will confirm with Mike.”
King’s law partner, Ruiz, also was Emanuel’s appointed vice president of the Chicago Public Schools until being shifted last November to serve as president of the Chicago Park District. In April 2016, Emanuel appointed Sophia King as 4th Ward alderman.
Abrams and King’s violations likely never would have come to light had Emanuel not faced pressure from open records lawsuits from the Tribune and Better Government Association. The mayor released the emails late last year as part of a settlement with the BGA, and the Tribune lawsuit is ongoing.
It’s unclear how much the ethics board might fine Abrams and King.
Under the ethics law, lobbyists who fail to register face a $1,000-a-day fine if they don’t register within five days of contacting city officials. That’s designed to create immediate transparency on which interests are seeking to influence potential government actions as decisions are being weighed by city officials.
Abrams and King would become the second and third individuals to be fined for failing to register as a lobbyist this year. In February, the board issued a record $90,000 fine to former Uber executive David Plouffe for illegally lobbying Emanuel on the city’s ride-sharing ordinance. Uber was hit with a $2,000 fine for a single instance of employing a lobbyist who failed to register.
In Plouffe’s case, the board issued a maximum fine based on the 90 days the former Obama campaign manager had failed to register after first emailing Emanuel asking for help on regulations for picking up travelers at the city’s airports.
Under the law, Abrams could face a potential fine of more than $520,000 dating back to his April 2015 email. King could face a fine of more than $500,000, dating back to his May 2015 email.
Ethics Board Chairman William F. Conlon, however, has signaled the board is unlikely to hand out exorbitant maximum penalties. He argued the panel has the authority to reduce penalties, and it will strive not to be “unreasonable or vindictive about what the fines are.”
The rulings issued Friday stated that “the board makes clear that its determination is not intended to question the subject’s integrity, character or motivations.”
So far, the Emanuel-appointed board has considered 28 cases, and found probable cause for illegal lobbying in 15 of them, sending notifications to those potential violators, records show. The board dropped four of those cases after meeting with individuals involved, found illegal lobbying existed in three cases and is still weighing another eight cases.