In the eight years since he opened a lobbying practice, former U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski’s one-man firm has been paid $4 million by clients with issues before the U.S. House transportation committee on which his son, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois, serves, records show.
The younger Lipinski is the senior Illinois representative on the 59-member committee that decides federal funding and policy crucial to transportation agencies and private companies such as railroads.
He says his father — who was a powerful member of the same committee — has pledged not to lobby him and followed through on that promise. That goes beyond House rules that ban lobbying only by a congressman’s spouse.
“I don’t think his clients ever hired him to influence me,” the Western Springs Democrat 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.”
Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen, says, “The concern is that businesses who have interests pending before the [congressman] will look for any which way they can find to throw money at the feet of their family members . . . . I would certainly view a business as much more friendly if my father was depending on that business for income.”
The elder Lipinski didn’t respond to interview requests.
On federal disclosure statements, he has reported being paid $4.8 million over eight years of lobbying, $4 million of that from clients with business before his son’s committee.
Bill Lipinski’s clients include the CTA, which has paid him $1.7 million; Metra, $763,000; and BNSF Railway, $891,000, lobbyist reports show. The Association of American Railroads, a freight trade group, was a client until 2013 and paid him $660,000, the reports show.
As a senior member of the House transportation committee, the former congressman was once a key figure in securing funding for the CTA and Metra.
Now, it’s his son who’s crucial to their funding. In 2012, for example, he helped defeat a proposal to eliminate $450 million in funding for the CTA, Metra and Pace.
Dan Lipinski was first elected to represent Illinois’ Third Congressional District in 2004 after his father left office.
In recent months, he’s been trying to help Metra meet a federal mandate to install a safety system to prevent accidents. In March, he and another Chicago Democrat, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, introduced legislation to provide $200 million a year in grants to help Metra and other rail operators install the safety system.
The same month, the elder Lipinski discussed safety grants with the top Democrat on the transportation committee, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, according to an invoice he submitted to Metra for his monthly $10,000 fee.
In his 2014 contract proposal to Metra, Bill Lipinski — who runs his firm from his Western Springs home — said he “has worked closely with virtually every key current decision maker who might impact Metra.”
In a monthly report to Metra for September, Bill Lipinski said he spoke seven times with key congressmen to get a handle on a pending transportation funding bill.
“They all say there will be a bill, but some say October, some say November and others say January 2016,” he reported. “I think it will be January 2016.”
A Metra spokeswoman said the agency hired him because “we need the best lobbyists working on our behalf. We believe Bill Lipinski is at the top of that list.”
As a congressman in the 1980s, Bill Lipinski won federal funding to build the CTA’s Orange Line to Midway Airport. In 2000, he helped secure $832 million in funding for improvements to the Blue Line and Brown Line and to expand Metra.
He picked up the CTA and Metra as lobbying clients in 2007. The CTA pays him $160,000 a year.
A CTA spokesman credits him for helping bring the agency “unprecedented” federal funding in the past four years.
One of the former congressman’s signature achievements in Congress was setting up financing for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program, known as CREATE, meant to untangle gridlock and delays caused by freight and passenger trains sharing tracks. Many of those tracks are in his district.
He helped craft the law creating a program of large transportation earmarks, which his son later used to get the initiative’s first $100 million in funding. Dan Lipinski has since helped CREATE get $236 million in additional funds.
In 2007, Bill Lipinski registered to lobby for the railroad association, BNSF and Metra — all beneficiaries of CREATE.
This was written by Chuck Neubauer and Sandy Bergo, investigators for the Better Government Association.