Chico, Emanuel Both Masters of the Business of Politics

Gery Chico released his tax returns on Tuesday, and they show that he and Rahm Emanuel are both in the same racket: government.

Masters of the revolving door of money and power, they’ve earned millions selling their experience in public service to the private sector.

Chico and his wife Sunny, a school consultant, earned $2.6 million last year, mostly from his law firm, Chico and Nunes, which lobbies City Hall on behalf of more than 40 companies, including Exelon Generation, Cisco Systems and Clear Channel.

Emanuel, you may recall, left the Clinton White House to earn $18 million in just two-and-a-half years at the investment banking firm of Wasserstein Perella & Company, which was run by Bruce Wasserstein, a Democratic Party donor.

As The New York Times put it, Emanuel traveled “what has by now become a well-trodden gilded path out of politics and into the lucrative world of business,” where he turned “many of his contacts in his substantial political Rolodex into paying clients.”

Emanuel then used that money to amass more power. He wanted to make sure his family was taken care of financially before he ran for Congress. And if he loses the mayor’s race, you can bet he’ll leverage the power he amassed with that money to … make even more money, as a lobbyist or a banker.

It’s a classic story, in which government and big business are two sides of the same gold coin. Like Emanuel, who began his career as a fundraiser, Chico started small, as an aide to the City Council Finance Committee, run by his patron Ed Burke, himself a master of getting rich off his political influence. Then he was Mayor Daley’s Chief of Staff, school board president, park district chief and head of the city colleges. Chico knows everyone in City Hall, and clients pay big bucks for those kind of connections. He’s not as wealthy as Emanuel, but Chicago isn’t as big a game as Washington.

“Gery’s not a lobbyist,” said campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “He hasn’t been a lobbyist since 2007, when he took over the park district.”

But five of Chico & Nunes’s 12 attorneys are lobbyists, “helping businesses navigate City Hall red tape,” Anderson said. Chico took a $2.9 million salary from the firm last year.
If Chico is elected mayor, he has promised to end his association with Chico & Nunes. He will make the firm ineligible to compete for city business, but he won’t ask it to stop lobbying City Hall.

“Gery is not going to be in a position, nor would it be appropriate, for him to tell a private business what to do,” Anderson said.

 As Rich Miller notes on Capitol Fax, having the mayor’s old law firm working the hallways at City Hall is going to look bad:

 I know lots of lobbyists. Almost all are more honest and scrupulous than many people I know outside of politics. The problem is, the common folk don’t think so. To them, lobbyists carry bags of cash around to hand out to crooked politicians. If Chico does start to surge, Rahm Emanuel can use that tagline against him. And it’ll probably be effective. That last statement about refusing to ask his firm to stop lobbying the city just makes it worse.

Emanuel probably will complain about Chico’s law firm lobbying City Hall. But that will only prove that he knows how lucrative this merry-go-round can be.

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