There are plenty of ethics stories in the news these days and I’m sure you’ve been seeing quite a few of them. Unfortunately, the majority of them probably have to do with President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Those aren’t the only such stories taking place, however. Out in the Windy City a different ethics case was resolved this week and judging by the media coverage I’m seeing so far (or lack thereof) it’s a tale that the cable news outlets are somewhat less enthusiastic about. This one involves former Obama advisor David Plouffe, who was just slapped with almost $100,000 in fines related to his lobbying activities with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Chicago Tribune)
A former senior executive for Uber who once served as Barack Obama’s campaign manager has been fined $90,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for illegally lobbying Mayor Rahm Emanuel on behalf of the ride-hailing company.
The board voted 5-0 to find that David Plouffe violated city ethics rules by failing to register as a lobbyist after contacting Emanuel to help the company on regulations for picking up travelers at Chicago’s two airports.
Plouffe’s lobbying violation only became public after Emanuel in December released hundreds of personal emails related to public business under the pressure of two open records lawsuits alleging the mayor violated the state’s open records law.
So the story is tied directly to Uber, where Plouffe went to work for a while after allegedly leaving public service. The company was sorting through the myriad legal hurdles which arise anytime you challenge the status quo in the livery industry. In order to get their foot in the door with pickup and delivery service at Chicago airports, Uber needed a helping hand from the municipal government to clear the various regulatory barriers which have long been in place to protect the taxi companies and their unions. The nice thing about being somebody in David Plouffe’s position is that when you need to get things done you can easily pick up the phone or fire off an email to the mayor, particularly when said Mayor is also another Obama alumni. David Plouffe did precisely that and got the deal done.
There’s just one catch however. That sort of activity is known as “lobbying” in legal circles, and it’s rather heavily regulated, even in a place like Chicago. The public is entitled to know when influential figures are providing “advice” to the mayor regarding major decisions which will involves the shifting of significant amounts of tax dollars. And in order to act as a lobbyist one must register and fill out the proper forms so that the public can keep track of your activities. David Plouffe failed to do that and the entire matter probably would have never come to the public’s attention had it not been for a release of private correspondence relating to a separate investigation.
The size of the fine was pretty significant and Plouffe’s attorneys had argued that he should only be tagged for $1000. Unfortunately for them, the law is structured in such a way that the fines continue to pile up for each day that one remains in noncompliance. That’s how the judge interpreted it anyway and it turned into a serious amount of cash.
Exit question for the audience. This just sounds like the “Chicago way.” It’s how this crew has always done business, choosing to cut corners wherever necessary in order to move the ball down the field. How much of that do you suppose was going on in the Obama administration? And more to the point, how much of it will we never find out about?