Rahm Emanuel, the Crooked fundraiser


Ever wondered how Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel finances his mayoral election campaigns? As he prepares to run for a third term in 2019, Emanuel has already amassed $3.1 million, some 18 months before the actual race. What is interesting is that over two-thirds (68 percent) of these ‘donations’ came from 83 donors who have engaged in pay-to-play activities with the Democratic mayor of the Windy City.

These donors include developers requiring permits to erect buildings in the city, restaurant companies wishing to have a presence at the city’s airports, event promoters, as well as lawyers thirsty for the humongous fees they can charge Chicago City Council.

Let’s take Schiff Hardin lawyers for instance to illustrate how this all works.

In January 2012, the firm earned around $205,000 for acting as co-counsel on a $1.2 billion bond issue. Three months or so later, Emanuel had lunch at the firm’s offices and received $17,800 from half a dozen of the firm’s lawyers. In 2013, the firm earned just under $100,000 in fees for dealing with a $276-million wastewater revenue bond. During a campaign meeting a few month later, the mayor received $16,000 from a number of Schiff Hardin lawyers.

Another firm focusing on zoning law, DLA Piper, also has a mutually-beneficial relationship with Emanuel. Incidentally, the practice was established by former zoning attorney David Reifman who conveniently happens to be the city’s current commissioner of planning and development.

When Emanuel first ran for mayor, he collected $54,000 in political donations from DLA Piper lawyers and their relatives. When he ran for the second time, the contributions exceeded $75,000. Last September, 15 DLA Piper lawyers donated $35,700 when the mayor joined them for breakfast. At the time, the firm was lobbying the Emanuel administration to approve the plans on the city’s new McDonald’s headquarters. The following day, the plans were approved.

But Emanuel is happy to engage in these activities with restaurant businesses wishing to have a presence at the city’s two airports as well. Conveniently, the Department of Aviation’s commissioner, the man who approves all new shop openings at both O’Hare International and Midway International airports, was chosen by Emanuel himself.

In early February this year, Emanuel met the founder of the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant group, Richard Melman, and Lettuce executive Christopher Meers. Ten days or so later, the group was given the go ahead to set up shop at Midway Airport. In March, Emanuel collected $99,400 from the Melman family, the group’s various restaurants and its employees.

Three and a half years ago, the Democratic mayor received $59,000 from a Lettuce fundraiser. A month later, Emanuel inaugurated a revamped O’Hare terminal which housed three new Melman restaurants which had been approved by the Department of Aviation’s commissioner.

When questioned about the obviously rampant pay-to-play practices at Chicago City Hall, Emanuel’s spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier insisted that through his executive actions the mayor had “set the highest ethical standards in the city’s history.”

In 2012, Chicago was declared the most corrupt federal jurisdiction in the United States.

As the old saying goes, plus ça change