Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the media after a Chicago Gourmet event at Tribune Tower onJune 13, 2017. The Chicago Board of Ethics found that two individuals who contacted Emanuel through his personal email broke the city’s lobbying laws. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
Two individuals who contacted Mayor Rahm Emanuel through his personal email broke the city’s lobbying laws, the Chicago Board of Ethics determined Tuesday.
The panel voted without dissent to find the two people violated the law by seeking to influence City Hall action without registering as a lobbyist. Ethics board President William F. Conlon said the individuals would be identified on a city website, but not until later this week after they are notified of the ruling.
The two new lobbying violations come as the ethics board has seen a sharp increase in potential cases after a Chicago Tribune report in March found that Emanuel’s personal email accounts have served as a private avenue for lobbyists, corporate executives and campaign donors who sought action from — or access to — the mayor. The Tribune found 26 possible instances where individuals contacted the mayor or city officials but did not register as a lobbyist or report that contact to the ethics board.
Tuesday’s decisions bring to three the total number of cases in which the ethics board found lobbying violations. 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.
The ethics board has determined probable cause for at least 12other possible lobbying violations, and its review of those cases is ongoing.
While the board will notify the two new violators, it has yet to make a final determination on how much they’ll be fined. That matter will be discussed at the board’s July meeting, Conlon said.
An individual faces fines if they seek to influence a city official without registering or reporting their activities. The largest fine is $1,000 a day for lobbyists who fail to register within five days of contacting city officials — a penalty designed to create immediate transparency as to which interests are seeking to influence potential government actions as city officials weigh those decisions.
The Tribune found the 26 potential lobbying violations it identified in March could carry in excess of $14 million in fines based on how much time had passed and the $1,000-a-day tab. The city’s lobbying law does not take into account the nature or frequency of the lobbying, just whether the registration happened.
In Plouffe’s case, the board issued a maximum $90,000 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.
Conlon, however, said Tuesday that the board had the authority to reduce fines from the $1,000-per-day amount called for in the ethics law. Board members, he said, wanted to take more time to determine how much the fines should be for the two new violations.
"Obviously, fines need to be appropriate. Under the ordinance, the fines are $1,000 a day. For some folks, that is an extraordinary amount. … It’s taken us awhile to determine, as we talk about this, that we don’t want to be punitive," Conlon said. "We’re not going to be unreasonable or vindictive about what the fines are."
The board also announced it expected to find up to 62 city employees, 10 appointed officials and five elected officials in violation of ethics rules for failing to file their annual economic interest statements. Those individuals also will be identified later this week, the board said, and could face a $250-per-day fine until they file their statements, which include information on political donations, gifts and financial investments among other items.