Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Lisa Madigan Says Choose Chicago Has Right to Remain Silent

Illinois' attorney general quashes a FOIA request for records on how the tourism agency spends its dough

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Lisa Madigan Says Choose Chicago Has Right to Remain Silent

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says Choose Chicago -- the city's tourism arm -- retains the right not to disclose how it spends government money.

Madigan recently quashed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Chicago Sun-Times, ruling that Choose Chicago's status as a not-for-profit renders it exempt from the public disclosure demands of the law.

City Hall and the government agency Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA, aka "McPier") account for more than 50 percent of the group's financing. In 2013, the city funneled $8 million to the organization including a $3 million grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), which is headed up by Michelle Boone, an appointee of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"DCASE has never audited Choose Chicago," said City Hall spokesperson Jamey Lundblad. "We're pleased with their progress — and the city is on its way to meeting the mayor’s goal of attracting 55 million visitors by 2020."

Of the 42 members on Choose Chicago's board, four work for Chicago and two for McPier. Those members include Boone.

"There is no indication that the city or MPEA directly controls Choose Chicago or that the day-to-day operations ... are inextricably intertwined with those of the city or MPEA," Madigan's office said in its FOIA dismissal.

Earlier this year, Emanuel pledged to summon an annual 55 million tourists here within six years as part of his ongoing mission to transform this Midwestern metropolis into a global hotspot on par with New York and Los Angeles. He's since pushed to snare President Obama's presidential library for the city as well as the 2015 NFL draft and "Star Wars" filmmaker George Lucas' much-hyped "interactive" museum.

Most controversially, he is also working to develop the South Loop area surrounding the McPier-owned McCormick Place with a brand-new hotel and DePaul sports stadium. Over at Navy Pier, Chicago's No.1 tourist destination, a $163 million operation is underway to add a new park and bicycle flyover, among other pricey tweaks.

Madigan, the daughter of Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, also denied media FOIA requests for public records relating to Navy Pier, historically a cesspool of political clout. Back in 2011, McPier -- which operated the lakefront entertainment complex -- transferred ownership to a privately-run nonprofit organization dubbed Navy Pier Inc., prompting accusations that the move was enacted to shroud patronage deals from public view.

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