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$10K contribution ethics violation?

St. Paul Cross student JuliKlages is joined by Metropolitan Water ReclamatiDistrict Greater Chicago Commissioner Michael Alvarez during an event recognizing

St. Paul of the Cross student Julia Klages is joined by Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioner Michael Alvarez during an event recognizing students with outstanding science projects. | Contributed photo

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Updated: February 28, 2013 6:48AM

On Dec. 28, Michael Alvarez gave Rahm Emanuel a $10,000 campaign contribution.

In the scheme of things, ten grand isn’t much money anymore in a bazillion-dollar Super Pac era. Still, it’s worth a conversation.

Here’s why.

Alvarez, a 32-year-old political up and comer, wears many hats, as the Sun-Times’ Tim Novak and Chris Fusco have reported.

He is an elected public official as a commissioner of the Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, making $70,000 a year.

He’s a hired gun doing public relations for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, earning $60,000 a year.

And he’s a lobbyist with a growing list of lucrative clients, ratcheting his income far higher. An important client is American Traffic Solutions (ATS), one of two companies slugging it out to operate the mayor’s high-speed camera program. The other company is Xerox.

The city is expected to announce the winner of the contract any day now. Just as the mayor is, sometime very soon, preparing to launch his much-touted ethics ordinance.

On his first day in office, Emanuel, with considerable emphasis, signed executive orders on ethics, calling “ethical conduct the key ingredient in building and sustaining taxpayer trust” to “avoid transactions and circumstances that may compromise or appear to compromise the independence of any City decision.”

The mayor forbade any lobbyist registered with the city to make a “contribution of any amount to the mayor or to his political fundraising campaign.” That lobbyist, if caught, would lose his or her right to lobby in the city.

Yeah, except there is an exception big enough to drive a truck through.

Michael Alvarez didn’t give his contribution last month while wearing his lobbyist hat. He gave it while wearing his elected official hat by dipping into his political fund, Friends of Michael Alvarez.

That’s still a violation of the mayor’s executive order, says David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform: “If he is a registered lobbyist with the city and is pushing for (this high speed camera project) ... he is prohibited from giving to the mayor’s political fund.”

The mayor’s office ignored my specific questions on this. Instead, spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton’s email response simply heaped praise on her boss: “Emanuel campaign fund has the strictest contribution rules of any major candidate in the history of the city....”

For his part, Michael Alvarez told me, “I do everything from the spirit and letter of the law to keep my politics and my career separate.” He added, “Anyone who knows the mayor at all, knows it’s completely outlandish that he would respond to a campaign contribution.”


Rahm Emanuel has just begun to amp up his fundraising for a 2015 run. Reporting $1.6 million by the end of December, he collected a cool $47,500 in the first 10 days of January.

If the mayor is indeed laser-focused on ethics, I have two suggestions.

Close this lobbyist loophole.

And give Alvarez back his ten grand.

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