Andy Shaw: Lipinski takes advantage of lobbying loophole

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Most people consider themselves lucky if their retirement income includes more than a Social Security check.

By that measure former Chicago Congressman Bill Lipinski is “killing it” – thanks to the lucrative lobbying contracts he secured after leaving the House of Representatives in 2004.

As the Better Government Association recently reported in the Sun-Times, the veteran Southwest Side politician — Lipinski was an alderman, ward committeeman and powerful Democratic organization insider before serving 11 terms in Congress — raked in nearly $5 million in the past eight years of lobbying.

But this column is not just about another ex-pol cashing in on government connections after moving to the private sector. That’s business as usual. This is about how he cashed in.

OPINION

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Roughly $4 million of the $4.8 million in lobbying income came from clients with funding and policy requests that are handled by the House Transportation Committee, which now includes Lipinski’s son, Dan, who took over his father’s congressional seat and committee assignment to keep the family focus on transportation issues.

Among the groups hiring Bill Lipinski: Metra and the CTA, the Chicago area’s two main transit agencies.

Dan Lipinski says “it’s pretty clear my father, with 22 years in Congress — all those years on the Transportation Committee — that he was hired because of his knowledge.”

Dan says his dad doesn’t lobby him, but he could, and that raises the possibility of conflicts between familial and constituent loyalties.

It also provides an incentive for transit interests to hire Bill Lipinski to ensure favorable treatment from Dan.

The Senate prohibits parents, spouses and other close relatives from lobbying family members, but the House bars only spouses, so the rest of the loophole remains.

We’re also wondering why any former members of Congress are allowed to lobby on Capitol Hill, and perhaps more importantly from a taxpayer standpoint, why the CTA and Metra need a high-powered lobbyist like Bill Lipinski?

Isn’t it enough to have local allies in Congress – especially someone like Dan Lipinski, who was raised on transportation issues – advocating for local interests, including mass transit?

That’s one of Dan’s top priorities, so why should transit agencies have to hire his father?

A Metra spokesman says: “We need the best lobbyists working on our behalf, and we believe Bill Lipinski is at the top of that list.”

He may be, but isn’t it the job of every Chicago area Congressman, both U.S. Senators and their considerable staffs to protect mass transit in every possible way?

Shouldn’t that be enough taxpayer-funded firepower?

Bill Lipinski refused to discuss these issues. But even if the interests of father and son intersect, Dan says they’re not working as a team.

Perhaps, but things are still too close for comfort, with the elder Lipinski getting rich off government clients, and the younger Lipinski making decisions in Congress that affect those clients.

It looks a lot like the “Chicago Way”— transit agencies using our rider fares and tax dollars to repay the elder Lipinski for his advocacy when he was a Congressman, even if his lobbying is unnecessary now that his son sits on the Transportation committee.

It’s clearly time for Congress to reform its lobbying and nepotism rules to protect taxpayers, not insiders.

Gratitude is nice, but not when it’s our money.

Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association.

Email: ashaw@bettergov.org

Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: @andyshawbga

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