Backgrounder: Stopping Chicago-Style Corruption of Indiana Cities

September 20, 2017

“Weighing Third Term, Emanuel Relies on Campaign Donors Who Get City Hall Benefits” — Sept. 8. Chicago Tribune, Jeff Coen and Bill Ruthhart 

by Jason Arp

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is receiving attention this week after an investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that over 60 percent of the millions raised for his re-election bid come from vendors to the city of Chicago.

While it may not be shocking news to Hoosiers that there are foul winds blowing from the Chicago City Hall, it may be surprising that the situation is not so different here. An analysis conducted by The Indiana Policy Review of a typical mayor’s campaign finance filings and the city’s check register reveals a troubling pattern.

In the four years leading up to the 2015 municipal election over 50 vendors, contractors or beneficiaries of contracts made approximately $1 million in campaign contributions that subsequently resulted in the awarding of over $125 million in contracts. The $1 million raised from vendors equals about two-thirds of the $1.5 million our mayor raised in that time period. The contributors were civil engineers, architects, insurance companies, auto dealers and attorneys.

The two largest categories were engineering and legal services, totaling over $800,000. Linear regression analysis of campaign contributions and payments in these categories yielded an r-square value (a measure of correlation) of 90 percent for attorneys and 59 percent for civil engineers. One can interpret that to mean there is a statistically high probability that the more a firm contributes to the campaign fund the more it can expect in city contract dollars.

As a city councilman, I have a responsibility to do what I can to limit the ability for any mayor’s administration to use the operations of the city as a fundraising apparatus. To that end, I have submitted an ordinance to prevent our city from contracting with vendors that have made substantial campaign contributions. This amendment to the city’s bidding process ordinance  eliminates any entity from bidding of contracts with the city if it or its officers, key employees or relatives of key employees makes campaign contributions in excess of $2,700 in aggregate in any year after 2017.

It is critical to include officers and key employees in the amendment because of the level of obfuscation that goes on in the world of municipal campaign finance. For instance, in studying the contributions in the public filings you’ll find people contributing for amounts of less than $1,000 maybe three times a year for four years from Denver, Colorado, Columbus, Ohio, and perhaps Dover, Del., or Madison, Wis. Upon further investigation using public sources we find that these people all work for the same multinational civil engineering firm that intends to bid on work related to a large sewer project. What are the chances an engineer in Overland Park, Kans., gives a hoot about an Indiana mayoral race?

Our city council and yours have an opportunity to eliminate the opportunity for malfeasance. My model ordinance would not restrict people’s constitutionally protected right to political speech but would instead regulate a city’s bidding process. You can contribute as much as you like, you just won’t be able to bid on work for the city. Moreover, eliminating the practice of paying for access will free contractors from the burden of participating in funding campaigns, and allowing for a more diversified pool of bidders could lower the cost of doing business for taxpayers.

The Windy City electorate may expect some corruption in their city government. In Indiana we demand better.

Jason Arp, a financial consultant, represents the 4th District on the Fort Wayne City Council.


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