Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

City Council Blocks Watchdog's Campaign Finance Crusade

Ald. Patrick O'Connor aims to curb Faisal Khan's attempts to probe city code violations

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City Council Blocks Watchdog's Campaign Finance Crusade

Tensions between Chicago aldermen and Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan boiled over on Wednesday as City Council passed an ordinance designed to block Khan's actions to gain authority to investigate campaign finances.

As it stands right now, there's no proper oversight of how council members handle campaign contributions and whether they do so within legal limits. After assuming office in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel formed an Ethics Task Force to keep aldermen accountable and -- facing the inevitable backlash -- eventually passed a watered-down ordinance that led to City Council appointing its own legislative inspector general in a blatant power play to control probes into their historic (and well-documented) transgressions.

The council hired Khan only to strip him of power. He's only allowed to look into sworn complaints against an alderman, not those made anonymously. With the backing of the mayor and his Board of Ethics, Khan is working to get permission to launch proactive investigations into members' campaign funds and illegal wrongdoing thereof.

But a decision at Wednesday's Rules Committee meeting threw a wrench into Khan's efforts. The committee voted 20-9 in favor of an ordinance proposed by 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O'Connor that aims to curb his bid to enforce meaningful reform. Hours later, the entire City Council pushed it through by a vote of 41-6.

Current city code caps some individual campaign donors at $1,500 in donations and bars aldermen and aspiring office-holders alike from accepting money from donors with business ties to City Hall.

O'Connor's proposal hands back jurisdiction over campaign finance-monitoring to the Board of Ethics, against its own objections. (The board strongly supports Khan.)

The Chicago Tribune quoted Khan as telling the Rules Committee that greenlighting the move "will be seen as nothing but a cynical ploy by this body to prevent its own investigative agency from doing the work it's been mandated to do."

Earlier he told the paper: "With an election coming in six months or more and a record number of candidates coming out for all these positions, aldermen are looking to get all the money they can."

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