Watchdog alleges Chicago alderman using lobbyist on staff illegally
Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) allegedly is employing a registered lobbyist who represents some of the biggest and most powerful real estate developers in the city as his chief of staff -- a conflict of interest that would skirt legal and ethical guidelines, Faisal Khan, who investigated the matter for watchdog group Project Six, alleges.
The employee in question is Madeleine Doering (also known as Madeleine Hill), who once worked for the city as an assistant commissioner in the Planning and Development Department.
“(She) then moved over to Alderman Reilly’s staff, first as a staff member then as a chief of staff,” Khan told Chicago City Wire. “She left there and went to work for a public relations firm and then also became a registered lobbyist for a number of different development companies, including M. Fishman Co. and Wirtz Realty Corp., who are major developers in the City of Chicago. At some point after, she went back to Alderman Reilly, (who) decided to hire her technically on paper as a staff member on a political committee while she was still working in city hall and at his ward office.”
Khan traced Doering’s employment and history by looking extensively at public records and obtaining email via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“We saw that she was really still acting as his chief of staff,” Khan said. “She was doing all the ward work, dealing with all the ward information while, at the same time, dealing with developers, advocating for developers, and working Alderman Reilly on development issues.”
This is an ethical issue because Reilly is not only the alderman for one of Chicago's most developed districts, but he is also on the Planning and Development Committee. Doering, as a registered lobbyist, has direct access to Reilly’s ear.
“Any planning and development basically has to go through him,” Khan said. “There is an inherent conflict of interest. She cannot serve as a lobbyist while still working for the alderman because that is what the law intended to avoid: A lobbyist cannot be a city employee so they can’t influence city officials in their decision-making process.”
Khan said Reilly is threading this personnel needle with a loophole.
“The loophole that Alderman Reilly found was that he made her a staff member on his political committee and avoided making her chief of staff as a city employee,” Khan said. “But he is violating the spirit of the law, obviously, because she is still doing the exact same thing she would be doing had she had the other title. Her salaries are almost identical.”
Khan said Doering is still breaking the law because her unofficial duties as chief of staff grant her contract-management authority, which is something that a political committee member cannot possess.
Both Reilly and Doering need to make a decision as to what position Doering fulfills, Khan said.
“The reality is Ms. Doering needs to make a decision as to whether she is a lobbyist or whether she wants to work for the alderman,” he said. “You really can’t have it both ways. You cannot be able to lobby for developers in the city whose financial interests are their own while working for an alderman whose financial interests should be those of the taxpayers.”
Khan derided Reilly for keeping on Doering and jeopardizing the integrity of his office.
“Alderman Reilly needs to make a decision because right now, his actions or inactions shows that he is trying to circumvent the law by keeping Ms. Doering on staff,” Khan said. “He needs to make a decision as to whether he thinks his interest is greater keeping her on staff than that of taxpayers who want to know that any proposal that comes before him is being dealt with a fair and appropriate way and only serving their interest and not that of any developer who is whispering in Ms. Doering’s ear who is whispering in Mr. Reilly’s ear.”
As for charges against Reilly and Doering, Khan said it is up to the inspector general and the Board of Ethics.
“We’ve identified what we believe is a conflict of interest, and we forwarded our findings to the Inspector General's Office and the Board of Ethics, and I hope that they will review this matter seriously, take a look and determine whether or not any penalties are appropriate,” he said. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. We will wait for what the Board of Ethics does."