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City Hall’s new No. 1 lobbyist? Lawyer who got Emanuel on ballot

Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel left talks with his attorney Michael Kasper during break Chicago electiboard hearing Tuesday December 14 2010

Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, left, talks with his attorney Michael Kasper during a break of the Chicago election board hearing Tuesday December 14, 2010 to determine whether he meets the residency standard for mayoral candidates. | Photograph by Jose More

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Top lobbyists
at City Hall

These lobbyists reported making the most money lobbying Chicago city officials in the second half of 2011.

Lobbyist Total pay

Mike Kasper $403,500.98

Donna Pugh $266,000

John Kelly Jr. $244,000

Thomas J. Murphy $223,568

Bernard Citron $145,889

Source: Chicago Board of Ethics

Updated: July 6, 2012 10:23AM

Since helping Mayor Rahm Emanuel turn back an effort to remove him from the 2011 mayoral ballot, Chicago lawyer Mike Kasper has seen his lobbying business boom at City Hall, records show.

Kasper successfully beat back arguments that Emanuel didn’t meet the city’s residency requirement, allowing him to run for mayor.

Kasper has since seen a sharp increase in the number of clients hiring his firm to lobby City Hall and also in the amount of money that business brings in, according to disclosure reports that City Hall requires lobbyists to file.

For the period of January-June 2011, Kasper’s firm reported having 11 clients paying a total of $235,666 for lobbying work at City Hall.

In the second half of last year — the first full six-month reporting period since Emanuel was sworn in as mayor in May 2011 — Kasper vaulted to No. 1 on the list of top-paid lobbyists working at City Hall. He reported being paid more than $403,000 in that span for City Hall lobbying work — up 42 percent over the first half of the year.

That makes Emanuel’s first months in office by far the most lucrative for Kasper at City Hall, according to city records, which go back only to 2004.

“The numbers are what the numbers are,” Kasper said.

Emanuel’s top spokeswoman, Sarah Hamilton, initially declined to comment when asked last week about Kasper’s growing list of City Hall lobbying clients since the mayor’s election. After this story first appeared at Saturday, she released a statement:

“It doesn’t matter who you are or who you represent, the one interest that trumps all is the Chicago taxpayers, and that is who the mayor looks out for. The old way of doing business is over and while old habits may be hard to change, they are changing and will continue to change.”

Emanuel campaigned to succeed former Mayor Richard M. Daley on a pledge to reform a city government he said was “an insider’s game, serving primarily the lobbyists and well-connected.”

After Emanuel was elected, Kasper’s firm soon signed deals worth tens of thousands of dollars apiece annually with corporate clients including Citibank, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, AT&T and Dell. Kasper said in filings with the city Ethics Board that he anticipated lobbying the mayor’s office for each of his dozen new clients.

Most of Kasper’s City Hall lobbying during the final years of the Daley administration involved efforts to influence the City Council.

Until his star turn in Emanuel’s high-profile residency case, which was finally decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, Kasper was probably best known in political circles for his ties to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). Kasper, 47, was Madigan’s top legal counsel and continues to serve as legal counsel and treasurer for the Illinois Democratic Party, which Madigan heads.

Kasper also is a prominent lobbyist in Springfield.

At City Hall, Kasper was a relatively minor player during the final years of the Daley administration.

Then, Emanuel tapped Kasper as his election lawyer in early October 2010. That was just days after Emanuel left his post as President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff and returned to Chicago to run for mayor in the wake of Daley’s decision not to seek reelection.

It was Kasper who shepherded a cart loaded with Emanuel’s nominating petitions to the city Board of Election Commissioners’ office that fall.

At the time, Kasper had six City Hall lobbying clients at his firm — Fletcher, O’Brien, Kasper & Nottage P.C. Those ranks quickly grew, with five companies signing on between the time of Emanuel’s election victory and his swearing-in. Another six have been added to his city government client list in the first nine months of the new administration.

Citibank N.A., the New York-based financial giant, signed a $6,000-a-month deal with the firm on May 13, 2011, just before Emanuel was inaugurated. Citibank had recently dropped its longtime Chicago lobbyist, Tim Dart, whose brother, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, had very publicly weighed and then declined running for mayor.

Kasper did not disclose what issues he has been lobbying city officials for on Citibank’s behalf. Emanuel recently announced that Citibank N.A. and Citi Infrastructure Partners were among a handful of financial institutions that have “agreed to consider” investing in public works projects to be built through the mayor’s new Chicago Infrastructure Trust program.

A spokeswoman for Citibank declined to comment on why the company hired Kasper.

Executives for AT&T declined to comment on the $100,000-a-year agreement the company signed with Kasper’s firm in December.

Dell signed a $72,000-a-year deal in February. In his Ethics Board filing, Kasper said he expected to lobby Chicago school officials, as well as the mayor and aldermen, on Dell’s behalf.

“Dell values Mr. Kasper’s advice and understanding of the public policy environment in Chicago,” company spokeswoman Hillary Maxwell said.

Kasper landed a one-year, $73,334 contract with the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, which opposed Emanuel’s plan to make not-for-profit organizations such as hospitals pay full price for city water they’d been getting for free. The mayor ultimately agreed to phase in the increase.

A spokeswoman for the council said it didn’t renew its deal with Kasper when it ran out at the end of April.

Kasper’s firm’s other city lobbying work includes deals with Delaware North Companies ($80,004 a year), which has expressed interest in a pending bid to operate airport concessions; Dominion Voting Systems ($60,000 a year), which provides voting machines to the city; and the Academy for Urban School Leadership ($75,000 a year), which operates charter schools.

“We engaged his services before my time, so I don’t know how we came to the point where we hired him,” said AUSL spokeswoman Deirdre Campbell. “I don’t know the specifics of everything he has worked on, but I can say we have been happy.”

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