Documents show Reilly accepted campaign contributions from Wanda Vista Tower developer
Despite his campaign promise not to accept money from developers, records indicate Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly received more than $72,000 from Magellan Development or its officers between 2011 and 2016, according to documents provided to Chicago City Wire by a source who requested to remain anonymous.
Reilly, who represents the 42nd Ward on the Chicago City Council, is "influential" when it comes to downtown development, the source said, and it's resulted in good deals for Magellan.
The situation raises questions and could hint at "impropriety," Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) told Chicago City Wire.
Magellan is building the Wanda Vista Tower on the New East Side with Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese real estate developer, according to Crain's Chicago business. At 1,144 feet, the skyscraper will be the third-tallest in the city.
But the project was originally slated to be much shorter, the source said, adding that Magellan sought approval to raise the skyscraper height, which is approximately two times higher than the original, and Reilly approved the "administrative change."
Throughout his campaign, Reilly said he “refuses to accept political donations from developers because he knows zoning decisions have a profound impact our neighborhoods," according to a campaign flyer. Reilly went on to say it would be impossible to remain objective about development if he accepted money from developers, the source said. The flyer also criticizes Alderman Burt Natarus for growing "too cozy with downtown real estate developers and has taken over $500,000 of contributions in the past 10 years alone."
But data provided by the source contradicts Reilly's campaign statements. In total, between July 2011 and June 2016, Reilly received $72,600 from Magellan or its officers through Citizens for Brendan Reilly and 42nd Ward Democratic Organization.
In just one day, on June 28, 2013, seven officials from the Magellan company donated a total of $26,000 to Citizens for Alderman Reilly. Four days later, another executive contributed an additional $2,000.
The source believes the multiple donations were intended to avoid election board contribution limits.
Brune said Reilly's acceptance of developer contributions doesn't present legal issues but it remains "sensitive."
"Aldermen have a lot of influence when it comes to zoning issues," Brune said. "Accepting campaign contributions, especially a large amount of them from area developers, can create the impression of impropriety, or it can raise questions from voters who want to understand what the relationship is between the business and the elected official whose job it is to represent the residents of the ward.”
A limit of $1,500 per year is imposed on campaign contributions to elected officials from companies doing business with the city. Brune said that policy would not apply in this case because as far as she knows Magellan is not in procurement with the city. However, the rule is meant to prevent any issues of a conflict of interest when the business could potentially benefit from the actions of the elected official.
Brune said Illinois has strong laws and policies regarding contribution limits, and this case is a good example of the importance of disclosing campaign contributions and how it benefits voters in Illinois. Without them, contributions would be made behind the scenes and the public wouldn't know. She also said that since the information is public, the ICPR can look into this type of thing and determine if there is a potential conflict of interest.
The real question is, “Does this business benefit from the alderman’s decision?" Brune said. "I think, in many people’s opinion, the answer would be yes.”
Reilly did not return requests for comment. He was first elected in 2007 and is serving a third term on the Chicago City Council. He's up for re-election in 2019. On his campaign website, he claims to fight for "greater fiscal accountability," "working to bring more transparency to city government" and "ensuring downtown residents have a voice in major development decisions."