Is this really news to anyone with more than two brain cells? The rhetorical question is why is this allowed? It just amazes me how open these 50 idiots can be regarding these money making schemes. They are not afraid to admit it only because they can finish the sentence stating that it isn't illegal. Yet another reason my money stays out of Chitcago.
Chicago architects have long been viewed as more high-minded than developers, who are seen as plying the city’s aldermen with campaign cash to get their projects off the ground.
But that image of political purity bears little relation to reality.
A virtual who’s who of Chicago architects has given tens of thousands of dollars to City Council members who hold near-total power to determine whether their projects get built, a Tribune investigation has found. Architects even have hosted fundraisers for aldermen.
In some cases, donations are made while a project’s future hangs in the balance. In others, aldermen reported receiving the contributions not long after the proposals were approved.
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The timing of the donations begs the question of whether the architects are complying with the American Institute of Architects’ ethics code, which forbids contributions that seek to sway officials’ judgments. The code, however, allows political donations to candidates, opening the door for architects to say they are following the rules.
Still, campaign finance watchdogs worry that the contributions give architects an advantage over ordinary residents who oppose projects but may not have their alderman’s attention.
The Tribune’s findings raise “serious questions” about the influence of the donations, said Alisa Kaplan, policy director for Reform for Illinois, a nonpartisan organization that studies the role of money in politics. “Even the perception of a quid pro quo undermines the political system,” she said.
Chicago architect Linda Searl, a member of the Chicago Plan Commission, which reviews major developments, also had concerns.
The problem is the timing of some contributions, said Searl, who chaired the commission from 2003 to 2012. “If (the architects are) doing it relative to when a project is getting approved, that’s quite suspicious.”
To be sure, architects do not only give to aldermen when their projects are under review or after the proposals win approval. But timely donations are part of an overall pattern of giving that is widely accepted among the city’s tight-knit architecture community and is little-known to the public.
The bulk of the money flows to City Council members in Chicago’s fast-growing wards. The architects and their developer clients have reason to stay on good terms with aldermen, who hold the power to advance a project, send it back to the drawing board or kill it.
From the start of the current building boom in 2010 through mid-November of this year, those with an occupation listed as “architect” have given more than $180,000 to aldermen, their ward organizations, and other city politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois campaign finance records show.
The architects’ firms have donated even more, bringing the total haul for politicians to well over $350,000.
Among the biggest donors are three large firms whose residential high-rises have remade the face of such areas as Streeterville, Lincoln Park and the West Loop: Antunovich Associates, Solomon Cordwell Buenz and bKL Architecture.
Firms with a bigger global presence, like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, designers of the towers planned for the former Chicago Spire site, and Studio Gang, architects of the Aqua Tower, also give to aldermen, though far less frequently and in smaller amounts.
The biggest recipients of architects’ money include Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, whose downtown ward is a hive of construction activity, and Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, the longtime chairman of the City Council’s powerful zoning committee. Solis announced last month that he will not seek re-election next year.
Records analyzed by the Tribune suggest a pattern of targeted, timely donations by architects that precede and follow aldermen’s stamps of approval.
Architects, however, describe their campaign contributions as a way to build relationships, not buy influence. They portray themselves as supporting smart, civic-minded aldermen who share their vision of the city’s future.
“If someone wanted to say there was a quid pro quo, people who know me, know absolutely not,” architect Joseph Antunovich, namesake of his firm, said in an interview. “I give consistently to these great public servants who have come along with us.”
In the last five years, Antunovich and his firm have given more than $43,000 to Solis’ 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization — a hefty amount even by developers’ standards.
During that time, Solis has supported several Antunovich-designed projects, most notably the zoning committee’s 2013 approval of an ultimately unsuccessful plan for three towers around the city’s old main post office.