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Friday, October 18

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Airbags

Lately we've been hearing an awful lot about lobbyists' influence on elected officials. Senator Barack Obama passed legislation in the Senate late last year that limits lobbyists' influence on elected officials and increases transparency standards for government contractors. Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has caught a lot of heat from John Edwards and Obama for accepting lobbyists' donations. Edwards decries the influence of large multi-national corporate influence on government and refuses to accept lobbyists' and PAC contributions. Obama seemingly talks out of both sides if his mouth, accepting bundled contributions from lobbyists and appointing a pharmaceutical lobbyist as chairman of his New Hampshire campaign organization. It goes on and on. On the national stage, the discussion about lobbyists' influence on government is impossible to ignore.

When it comes to lobbyists' influence on politics in our own backyard, the view is much murkier. Chicagoans have historically been much more accepting of corruption, even embracing it at times. We tend to romanticize our Fast Eddie Vrdolyaks as modern day Al Capones. When the system is taking care of people and when everyone seems to be sharing in the wealth, Chicagoans have always looked the other way. It's basically democratic corruption. As long as everyone is getting a piece of the pie, nobody's saying nothin'.

But what if there was an elected official who unabashedly surrounded himself with lobbyists every single day and his constituents never saw that piece of the pie? The candidate's father is a lobbyist and shares an office with the son, while a Chicago alderman who happens to also be a lobbyist is located right next door. The candidate's staff moonlights as lobbyists. A tangled web of campaign contributions slither through the father's lobbying interests to the son's campaign committee and back to the father. The father uses a fund set aside for activities for 7th and 8th grade kids to help elect his preferred candidates to office, namely his son. Obama, Clinton and Edwards can go back and forth with the corporate cash accusations all day long. They'll never hold a candle to Rep. Dan Lipinski and his father, former Congressman Bill Lipinski.

In 2004, Rep. William Lipinski won the Democratic primary only to immediately resign after 20 years of service. In what was widely considered a gross act of nepotism, Bill was able to convince the Democratic committeemen to slate his son Dan to run in his place. So Junior, who had been living out of state for years, was immediately shuttled in to claim the throne in Illinois' 3rd Congressional district. The district is solidly Democratic and voters had been voting for a Lipinski for 20 years. Needless to say, Bill Lipinski's heir apparent won the general election handily.

It took two years of internal lobbying before Rep. Dan Lipinski was appointed to the Transportation Committee, just as his father had been for many years. Upon retiring from Congress, Bill Lipinski promptly started a new life as a transportation lobbyist. He has unapologetically worked side by side with his son ever since.

On Oct. 7, 2007, Chicago Suntimes columnist Mark Brown reported on former Congressman Bill Lipinski's unscrupulous activities pretending to raise money for his All-American Eagles youth program. Though the program is meant to support extracurricular activities for 7th and 8th grade kids, the fund is actually an Illinois political action committee with the stated purpose "to elect the candidates for public office endorsed by the organization and support or oppose questions of public policy endorsed by the organization." The fund hasn't actually spent any money on activities for kids lately, unless we're talking about Bill Lipinski's kid. The fund has been used heavily as a fundraising tool for Rep. Dan Lipinski's campaign committee.

It's interesting to note that Rep. Lipinski's close alliances with lobbyists and family member's financial interests would be illegal if he was in the U.S. Senate. If Dan Lipinski were a senator, his father would not be able to interact with staff, attend constituent events or travel with his son. Since he's in the House and doesn't have much to worry about it in that regard, he doesn't think it's a problem to break all of the rules U.S. senators must abide by.

Rep. Lipinski unapologetically shares political office space with his father's lobbying firm, Blue Chip Consulting. 5838 S. Archer Ave. also houses the notorious All-American Eagles; the political offices of Alderman (and lobbyist) Michael Zalewski of the 23rd Ward, the 23rd Ward Democratic Organization and state Rep. Bob Molaro D-21st; and Rose Marie Lipinski's State of Illinois Court of Claims office. It also houses a mortgage firm and a security firm. That's an awful lot to fit into four office suites!

If you wanted to volunteer at Dan Lipinski's Chicago campaign offices, you would have a hard time finding it without an address. "The Bunker," as the Lipinski's call it, is located in the back of a building that resembles many along Archer Avenue. From the road, it looks like the generic, two-story building is just an Herbalife weight loss clinic. There are no requisite campaign signs in the windows. There's no buzzer or signage on the doorway. Its appearance would leave most people to think that the Lipinskis "don't want nobody, nobody sent." And, perhaps, that they don't feel that it would be prudent to flaunt these ties in public.

The Lipinskis have the staff interaction bit covered as well. Bill Lipinski not only interacts with Rep. Lipinski's staff, he pays them as well! Rep. Lipinski's chief of staff, Jerry Hurckes, as been paid consulting fees by Bill through the All-American Eagles program, as has Rep. Lipinski's former communications director, Chris Ganschow. The younger Lipinski has also funneled cash to Daddy by paying out consulting fees to Blue Chip Consulting.

The blatancy with which Rep. Lipinski and his father operate working on transportation issues and trading cash is stunning, even by Chicago's corrupt standards. Dan has pledged to build a Central Avenue underpass in Bedford Park while serving on the House Transportation Committee, while Bill was paid by Bedford Park to lobby specifically for the underpass. Additionally, Bill is registered as a railroad lobbyist while Dan works on these issues in committee. So, Rep. Lipinski pushes transportation bills in Congress that benefit Bill Lipinski's clients, who then pay Bill big bucks.

But the scam wouldn't work too well if the kid can't stay in office, right? For that, he'll need cash, and the elder Lipinski's lobbying clients have plenty. They include Burlington Northern Santa Fe, United Airlines and the Association of American Railroads — all of who happen to be large donors to Rep. Lipinski's reelection campaign.

It has been widely speculated that Bill Lipinski is acting as Rep. Lipinski's campaign manager for his reelection bid, just as he did in 2004 when he stated to the Chicago Tribune, "I have a perfect right to run my son's campaign." Bill Lipinski routinely takes it upon himself to make sure his little prince gets what he wants, so why would this be any different?

(As of press time, the Lipinski campaign had not supplied comment.)

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Comments

kenzo / January 9, 2008 8:46 AM

I think that one of the saddest issues in this whole mess is that Dan Lipinski is a Democrat in Name Only. He is not only unabashedly pro-War , but also pro-warrantless wiretaps. He also came out against a withdrawal time-line.He's anti-choice. True, he did write a letter to Bush, requesting that he condemns Japan for their continued whaling, but can we really call Japan-bashing a progressive policy? Wasn't that the M.O. of Bush the Elder?

Then again, the two have another thing in common: A Dynasty of Conning the American people for personal gain.

Ramsin / January 9, 2008 8:47 AM

To be fair, I don't think Bush Sr. was into Japan bashing so much as Japan elected official throwing up on.

Charlotte / January 9, 2008 4:30 PM

It's a separate issue that Dan Lipinski may be only slightly behind Joe Lieberman in the DINO department. But I suppose it does make the blatantly corrupt behavior even less palatable. Really, what are Lipinski's solidly Democratic constituents getting out of him being in office? More war funding, diminished reproductive rights, hateful policies toward the LGBTQ community, etc. Transportation isn't even that great in IL-03! The Lipinskis only care about doing right by themselves.

Kenzo / January 9, 2008 8:22 PM

The two are separate issues, but the point that I was making is that the fact that their right-wing political behavior is completely in concert with their right-wing policies.

Charlotte / January 10, 2008 12:08 AM

I concur!

Max / January 10, 2008 8:55 AM

Get even with the Lipinski's...donate $ to the Mark Pera campaign and vote for him in the primary in Feb.

Charlotte / January 10, 2008 3:59 PM

I agree that Mark Pera is by far the best bet to replace Lipinski. However, a name is a hard thing to beat. Like I wrote, voters in the district had been voting for Lipinskis for over 20 years. Pera is getting a lot of attention and has built a strong campaign. He just might pull it off.

yaj / January 10, 2008 6:21 PM

I live in the district and I'm still pissed about the post-primary switch that gave us little Lip.
I have to admit that transportation is a major issue in our neighborhood, which includes Midway and some of the heaviest train traffic in the country.
I'd never heard of Pera before I received his first direct mail. Has he been elected to anything before? I was going to support Palos Hills mayor Jerry Bennett. I'm resigned to being stuck with little Lip until he has only one primary opponent.

Charlotte / January 10, 2008 8:16 PM

yaj,
I believe Pera ran for state Rep. in 1996. He currently serves as an assistant Cook County states attorney. I think Jerry Bennett has the potential to be a formidable opponent to ''Little Lip''. At the moment he has very little money, institutional support, or organization. Plus there's the issue of Bennett having endorsed Lipinski as recently as 10 months ago. Rumors are flying that he was put up by the Lipinskis to split the vote. I'm unsure of a similar situation with Caparelli. I do know that he has an even less viable campaign than Bennett. I suppose we'll just have to see how it all turns out.

 

About the Author(s)

Charlotte Lynn lives and works in politics in the greater Chicago area when she's not laying low in a suburb of Cleveland. You can contact her at chicagocharlotte@gmail.com.

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