A South Side alderman blasted Chicago’s reinvigorated Board of Ethics on Wednesday for targeting her husband as an illegal lobbyist because he contacted Mayor Rahm Emanuel through Emanuel’s private email accounts.
Ald. Sophia King (4th) said “illegal lobbying” is meant to refer to people who either do not register as lobbyists or don’t report their lobbying on governmental action that stands to benefit them or their clients financially.
The rookie alderman said that was not the case with her husband, attorney and house music disc jockey Alan King, who could face a $750,000 fine.
At the time, King’s group had a permit to hold a “House Music Picnic” in Jackson Park, but the event was threatened by construction on the site.
“My husband was merely trying to get a fence moved” from an area that picnic organizers had paid to use. “The Army Corps of Engineers had put it over their footprint. I don’t think the spirit or the letter of the law is intended to punish somebody who is trying to right a wrong,” King said.
“People who are trying to literally right wrongs — what are they supposed to do? Who are they supposed to appeal to? People come to my office every day about fences, about all kinds of things that they want to get done or right wrongs. That’s the right place to go. You go to your elected officials.”
Ald. King noted that the Ethics Board’s stand runs contrary to the laws governing federal lobbying.
“You have to be getting paid to do what you do. Another is that you’re benefiting from it financially and in other ways. And a third is that you’re actually trying to several times contact the same person in order to get something done. None of those things applied to my husband,” the alderman said.
Does that mean Chicago’s oft-amended ethics ordinance needs to be changed yet again to rein in the Board of Ethics?
“It certainly needs to be used as it was intended: To get to people who are really trying to make money off of lobbying the government. That is certainly not the case with my husband,” Ald. King said.
Alan King is a house music disc jockey, Chicago attorney — and basketball buddy of Barack Obama.
In the 2015 email correspondence with Emanuel that drew the board’s attention, Alan King was seeking Emanuel’s help with the fence.
“I have a bit of a crisis situation with the Chicago Park District … ” reads part of an email King wrote to the mayor. “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.”
The Board of Ethics concluded the purpose of Alan King’s email was “ultimately to have a fence removed” from Park District property. And though the fence could be removed only by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the board determined the “email itself constituted an attempt to influence an ‘administrative action.’ … Namely, to enlist the assistance of a city official acting in and through an official city capacity to broker a solution to the administrative problem he was facing.”
Fines for both King and Emanuel friend and mega-donor Jim Abrams will be determined at the July 17 board meeting. They could hit $1,000 for every day a person failed to register as a lobbyist. The clock starts ticking five days after the contact was made.
In King’s case, that would be $750,000 and counting, since he still hasn’t registered. Abrams, who also hasn’t registered, would face a $773,000 fine.
Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon has said he does not anticipate imposing the maximum fine because that would be “an enormous amount of money.”
But he has warned that the fines will be high enough to send a message to those who do not register or report their lobbying activities to keep their influence peddling in the shadows.