Big Emanuel Donor, Husband Of Alderman Cited For Illegally Lobbying The Mayor Through His Personal Email

The total of those hit for lobbying the mayor without registering rises to three in cases that emanate from a BGA lawsuit that led Mayor Emanuel to release thousands of pages of business related emails from his personal accounts.

<p>Scott Olson/Getty Images</p>

City ethics watchdogs have cited two more people for illegally lobbying Mayor Rahm Emanuel in conversations emailed to his personal account that were made public after settlement of a Better Government Association lawsuit.

The Chicago Board of Ethics has identified the two as James Abrams, a big campaign donor to Emanuel and an executive with medical supply maker Medline Industries, and Alan S. King, husband of 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King, whom Emanuel appointed in 2016.

In a case also emanating from the BGA obtained emails, the ethics panel earlier this year fined former Obama White House official David Plouffe and his onetime employer, ride-hailing giant Uber, $92,000 for trying to influence Emanuel without registering to lobby.

Fines against Abrams and Alan King have yet to be announced by the board, but under city law they could in theory range up to $500,000 apiece. The ethics panel, which has signaled the actual fines it may impose could be less severe, says it is also weighing illegal lobbying charges against several other individuals for their emailed entreaties to Emanuel.

Records show Medline officials have donated $211,000 in campaign funds to the mayor, with most of that money coming from Abrams himself.

James Abrams
James Abrams (Photo: Medline)

The troubles for Abrams stem from his forwarding of an email to Emanuel on April 28, 2015. The original message was from Douglas Bank, one of Abram’s “dearest friends in the world” and chief operating officer of Phoenix Electric Manufacturing Company, who sought an exemption from a Chicago ordinance that will raise the minimum wage in the city to $13 by 2019.

Bank, in the email forwarded to Emanuel, asked Abrams if he could “facilitate a meeting with the Mayor or Chief of staff so we can make our case.”

The ethics board, in announcing its finding against Abrams, noted his forwarding of the email to Emanuel was an attempt to influence administrative action.

The email from King was sent to Emanuel on May 21, 2015. King identified himself as “Barack’s buddy and Jesse Ruiz’s law partner over at Drinker Biddle,” apparent references to then President Barack Obama and Jesse Ruiz, then the vice president of the Chicago Board of Education but now the president of the city parks board.

Alan King
Alan King (Photo: Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP)

King, in his email, told the mayor he was having “a bit of a crisis situation” with the 25th Anniversary Chosen Few House Music Picnic. King is one of the original house music disc jockeys and a member of the Chosen Few DJs. The Chicago Park District had planned construction work at Jackson Park, which would have “threatened” the event.

“I would not normally infringe on your time like this, and 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,” King wrote to Emanuel.

The ethics board described the King email as an attempt to have Emanuel use his influence to get a fence removed from park property.

The ethics panel said it has yet to determine the fines to be imposed, but city ordinance says such infractions can render fines of $1,000 a business day from five business days after the infraction occurs until it is cleared up.

Since Abrams and King reached out to the mayor in 2015, the fine totals could hit more than $500,000 apiece.

William Conlon, the ethics board chairman, said on Tuesday that the panel has historically had an educational function and it doesn’t want the fines to be “unreasonable” or “vindictive.” The fines, he added, can be “significant” but will be negotiated.

The cautious approach by the board to revealing discipline it plans to impose stands in stark contrast to the swift action the panel took over the winter after it took notice of the Plouffe emails seeking help from Emanuel for Uber.

Steve Berlin, executive director of the ethics panel, said it is trying to be consistent in how it imposes fines and it is looking at nuances of each case.

"The facts are subtle on some of these cases, they are less subtle on other cases,” Berlin said.

The legal settlement between the BGA and the city over Emanuel’s personal emails was reached in December. Since then, the board says it has sent letters to 15 individuals indicating that they may have committed lobbying violations. Three of those cases have since been dismissed, the board says, while nine are still pending.

This story was published with Crain's Chicago Business

Editor's Note: The final determination letter below citing James Abrams has been updated to reflect corrections on two dates made by the Board of Ethics on June 19. The corrections had no impact on the story above.