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Chicago Board of Ethics to start enforcing ‘cross-lobbying’ ban Oct. 1

The ordinance prohibits Chicago aldermen from lobbying state and local government and prevents their counterparts at those levels from doing the same at City Hall. It was supposed to take effect on April 14.

Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.
The Chicago City Council voted in December to prohibit aldermen from lobbying state and local government and preventing their counterparts at those levels from doing the same at City Hall.
Sun-Times file

After a four-month grace period, the Chicago Board of Ethics on Oct. 1 will start enforcing a ban on “cross-lobbying,” aldermen were told Tuesday, forcing at least one suburban official to stop lobbying City Hall or resign as a Flossmoor village trustee.

With federal investigators swarming around state and city government, the City Council voted in December to prohibit Chicago aldermen from lobbying state and local government and bar their counterparts at those levels from doing the same at City Hall.

The ordinance was to take effect on April 14. But the Ethics Board chose not to enforce it while a controversial amendment championed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot was pending. That amendment would have relaxed those rigid standards. The one identified beneficiary of the change would have been Flossmoor Village Trustee Gyata Kimmons, who could have continued to rake in big bucks while lobbying aldermen, the mayor’s office and city departments on behalf of his high-powered clients.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), the former federal prosecutor now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Rules and Ethics, did not support Lightfoot’s plan to water down the reform Smith championed and never called the amendment for a hearing.

On Tuesday, the Ethics Board notified aldermen the grace period is over. The enforcement period — and the potential for fines as high as $5,000 for each offense — will begin Oct. 1.

“A proposal was submitted to the City Council in March that would have allowed at least one registered lobbyist to continue to lobby while holding an elected office in another unit of local government. While it remained pending, the board delayed enforcement of the law as to those affected individuals,” the board stated in a press release.

“Sufficient time has now elapsed for any amendment process to have occurred. The Board has now confirmed there will be no changes. In order to give individuals affected by this provision time to make necessary arrangements for the transition of client responsibility to others or to resign from their elected post(s), the Board will commence enforcement of this provision beginning Oct. 1.”

Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon identified the one lobbyist as Kimmons but said “there may be more” — even after “a couple” of other lobbyists resigned to avoid the conflict.

Kimmons could not be reached for comment.

City records show he was paid $92,500 in lobbying fees during the first quarter of this year from a blue-ribbon list of clients that includes: Walmart; Bird Rides, which makes electric scooters; Starbucks; the Chicago Association of Realtors; Wendella Sightseeing; McDonalds Corp.; Westfield Concession Management and the United Center Joint-Venture.

During the second quarter, which included the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus, those same clients paid Kimmons $139,000 in fees to lobby the City Council, the mayor’s office and city departments.

Smith said Kimmons now has two weeks to make a choice. Resign as a village trustee or stop lobbying City Hall on behalf of his clout-heavy clients.

“We have seen enough in this city of what we call cross-lobbying, where elected officials use their positions as lobbyists to extract things for their clients through connections they only get because of their elected jobs,” Smith said Tuesday.

“The best way to avoid, even the appearance of a conflict is to simply say elected officials shouldn’t be lobbyists. I don’t believe that’s a hardship. There’s lots of ways to be involved in government without being an elected official.”

The ordinance championed by Smith and Aviation Committee Chairman Matt O’Shea (19th) was driven by the scandal surrounding now-former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, who resigned one week after his arrest on a federal bribery charge.

Arroyo was accused of paying a bribe to a state senator — identified by the Sun-Times as State Sen. Terry Link — in exchange for support of a gambling bill that would have benefitted one of Arroyo’s lobbying clients. Link has emphatically denied the charge. But last week, he, too, resigned.

It’s one thing for aldermen to lobbying members of the Illinois General Assembly and for state lawmakers to lobby City Hall. But the chances for cross-lobbying between Chicago’s City Hall and the Village of Flossmoor are minimal.

Still, Smith said, “A lot of the scandals that are going on right now in the state of Illinois have to do with really small municipalities. The mayor of McCook [was indicted]. … It is important that citizens have confidence that their elected officials are only there to benefit them.”

O’Shea said he is now pushing for a statewide ban on cross-lobbying.

“The people of this state are crying for reform...Now is not the time to be granting exceptions,” O’Shea said.