Tally Of Ethics Probes Tied To Emanuel Email Release Hits 14

Communications released by settlement of a BGA transparency lawsuit against the Emanuel Administration shine an ever brighter light on the special access afforded to favor-seekers with influence and power.

<p>Brian Jackson | For the Sun-Times</p>

City ethics watchdogs have found evidence pointing to at least 14 instances of improper lobbying of Chicago officials that came to light following settlement of a Better Government Association lawsuit over Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s personal email accounts.

Since the December release of thousands of emails from the mayor’s accounts, the Chicago Board of Ethics has voted to send letters of suspected lobbying violations to 14 individuals and the companies whose interests they sought to further with city officials. 

With one exception, the board has not made public names of those involved or discussed details of the activity in question. Board Chairman William Conlon (pictured above), during a board meeting Wednesday, said $92,000 in fines have been paid by Uber after onetime official David Plouffe emailed Emanuel in 2015 seeking help for the ride hailing giant in implementing new airport service.

Plouffe, a former official in the Obama White House, did not register as a lobbyist with the city until months after he lobbied the mayor. 

Though not stating it explicitly, Conlon made it clear that there was a connection between communications found in the thousands of pages of Emanuel emails and the board’s conclusions that it had found probable cause of many lobbying improprieties. 

Conlon thanked “those people who were responsible for bringing to the public the emails that were in the paper and were reported on television and electronically.”

As part of an agreement with the BGA, the city in December released more than 3,000 pages of emails that showed Emanuel routinely using personal accounts to conduct city business. The mayor and city did not admit wrongdoing, but the lawsuit had alleged that Emanuel turned to personal email to evade open records law transparency requirements.

Many of those emails revealed movers and shakers in the city’s business community making personal pleas for help to the mayor or others in his administration. 

In one instance, a top mayoral aid emailed the mayor about being contacted by Neil Bluhm, the chairman of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines who was seeking administration help in fighting gambling legislation in Springfield. The plea from Bluhm came just months after members of his family, also involved in the casino’s ownership, gave $300,000 to the mayor’s 2015 re-election campaign. 

It is unknown whether Bluhm’s contact was under scrutiny by the board.

On Wednesday, the board voted to issue eight new letters of probable cause of lobbying violations. That is in addition to the Plouffe/Uber case as well as five other probable cause letters sent earlier on which final action has yet to be taken, Conlon said.  

Conlon added that potential fines were likely to be “significant” should the board determine that violations have occurred.