Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ice Miller Arrives In Illinois Politics

When I want to catch up on what's happening in politics in my native state of Illinois, I head over to Rich Miller's Capitol Fax Blog. One of his posts today, in particular, caught my eye. It was entitled, "Schillerstrom Lining His Pockets With Dem Money?". Rich wanted to draw attention to a column about how Republicans in DuPage County, the biggest Republican County in Illinois to the west of Cook County, were upset with the DuPage Co. Board Chairman, Robert Schillerstrom, because of his lobbying ties to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D), Gov. Rod Blagoyevich (D) and other Democrats. "Eric Krol has a must-read story today about a prominent DuPage County Republican who might be engaging in some quid pro quo with the Chicago Democrats," Miller writes. The problem it seems happened after an Indiana law firm, which wanted to replicate its political influence in Illinois that it enjoys here in Indiana, hired the big-shot Republican as a lawyer-lobbyist in its Chicago office. That firm is of course Ice Miller. Eric Krol of the Daily Herald writes:

One of the most powerful Republicans in DuPage County is using his Democratic ties to enrich his private law practice on bond deals while awarding allies of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Gov. Rod Blagojevich taxpayer-funded lobbying contracts.

DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom is drawing fire from some county officials who question the intersection of public and private interests.

“I think that it’s extremely disappointing. It generates a perception that Bob’s support for these matters of important public policy have been determined perhaps by less than just good government terms,” said Brien Sheahan, a DuPage County board member from Elmhurst. “That perception is very damaging.” DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett said he found the situation “troublesome.”
“It’s the type of story that is going to attract scrutiny,” said Birkett, who railed against Blagojevich-tied lobbyists last year during his run for lieutenant governor.

Schillerstrom flatly denied any correlation between his law firm’s work and county contracts and dismissed the criticism as coming from those with agendas against him.

“There is no relationship between what I do governmentally and what (my law firm) does,” Schillerstrom told the Daily Herald Wednesday. “People can say that, and talk is cheap. But it’s simply not true. There’s no quid pro quos.”

“Joe Birkett can say anything he wants to say. There’s no wrongdoing or he would have said he would scrutinize it (himself),” he added.

Krol then goes on to identify nearly a half-million dollars in bond work Schillerstrom's firm, Ice Miller, has gotten courtesy of Democratic administrations. Krol writes:

Schillerstrom’s law firm has made at least $421,750 in legal fees for work on bond deals at the Democrat-controlled Illinois Finance Authority, Illinois Housing Development Authority and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, a Daily Herald analysis found.

The money comes as Schillerstrom awarded a $100,000 taxpayer-funded contract to a lobbyist who works for Victor Reyes, Democratic Mayor Richard M. Daley’s former patronage chief who also is being investigated by federal prosecutors in a government corruption probe.

In addition, Schillerstrom hired a former Daley press aide to a much-criticized $107,000-a-year contract to do public relations work despite already having a county staff member to handle that task. And Schillerstrom awarded an $80,000-a-year lobbying deal to John Wyma, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s key adviser and fund-raiser, to lobby on the county health department’s behalf the past two years. The Blagojevich administration controls the state agencies where Schillerstrom’s law firm got the bond work.

All of the deals flowing in both directions come after Schillerstrom changed DuPage’s long-standing opposition to O’Hare International Airport expansion that Daley long has coveted. The Daily Herald previously reported that Schillerstrom collected more than $46,000 from O’Hare contractors in the year leading up to that change of position, an amount that has grown since then as Schillerstrom flirted with and then dropped a run for governor.

“I don’t think so,” said Schillerstrom when asked if he was trying to get closer to the Daley administration. “As the area becomes Democratic, I’m dealing with more Democrats than I have in the past.”

After years on his own in private practice, Schillerstrom joined Indianapolis-based law firm Ice Miller in November 2004. The firm brought Schillerstrom in as its Illinois rainmaker, charged with getting new business.

“Mr. Schillerstrom will be engaged in the growth of Ice Miller’s Illinois presence in the areas of public finance, general corporate representation and litigation, real estate, labor and governmental affairs,” the company wrote. Shortly thereafter, the company began getting more work as bond legal counsel on deals from Democrat-controlled boards. Ice Miller’s presence in Illinois government bond deals has grown significantly since Schillerstrom came on board, according to records in industry publication the Bond Buyer . . .

Schillerstrom’s been so successful at rainmaking that Ice Miller recently opened up a new DuPage office in Lisle after acquiring the suburban practice of another Chicago firm.

“I’d like to think that is true, that I have brought in some business for Ice Miller and I’ve had some success doing that,” Schillerstrom said. “But there is no relationship between what I do governmentally and what Ice Miller does.”

But the revelation of Schillerstrom’s dealings are bound to cause more grief for him as he struggles with a recent revolt on the county board.

Sheahan said Schillerstrom’s dealings with Democrats “really undermines Schillerstrom’s claim to Republican leadership.”

When I worked for the House Republican Staff in Illinois, my boss was the House Republican Leader, Lee A. Daniels, who was from DuPage County. One of Schillerstrom's predecessors, Jack Knuepfer, was always hanging around my boss' office working on deals to enhance his power as county board chairman through the DuPage Water Commission, airport authority or whatever other commission he and his cronies could cook up to build a fiefdom at the expense of the municipalities in DuPage County. I vaguely recall Schillerstrom as one of the guys in the background working on these deals. The Knuepfer crowd was thoroughly despised by many of us who worked on the House Republican Staff at that time because their deals were always so obviously self-serving and just plain bad public policy.

The fact that Ice Miller has been able to use this hack to develop such a successful bond practice in Illinois in such a short period of time is a tribute to just how business gets done over there--the same as it gets done here. That he is able to cross political parties with his influence peddling should come as no surprise. It is another example of the growing problem within our two party system which is leading to disaffection among true party believers. The folks calling the shots in both political parties really have no ideological attachment to their respective parties. These influence peddlers weave a complex web of business ties which they use to distort and obscure the distinctions between the political parties. Ice Miller's lobbying practice here in Indiana wields enormous influence over the administration of Gov. Daniels at the State House and Mayor Bart Peterson, although they come from different parties. It's hard to see either Daniels or Peterson make an important decision without seeing the hand of someone from Ice Miller at play. While I single out Ice Miller, the firm is not alone. It's just the most obvious example to look to in Indiana. It's much worse in our nation's capitol where dozens of similar lobbying/law firms supplant the public interest with their special interest pursuits on a daily basis.

As someone who used to work hard in the trenches as a party activist, it really is disheartening to see what the influence peddlers have turned our two party system into. Throwing one party out in favor of another party doesn't seem to stem the influence of these folks at all. Good public policy and old-fashioned party loyalty take a back seat with these people in charge. I see little hope on the horizon that things are going to change any time soon.


Unknown said...

AI: Are there really two political party philosophies anymore? Your brand of Republican philosophy seems a lot different than that espoused by the Miller/Smith/Clark wing. I think you'd find a lot of Southern Illinois/Indiana Democrats with a completely different philosphy than Cook/Lake County Democrats. Perhaps the only real common denominator left in party politics is economic benefit.

Anonymous said...

I wish we had reporters over here in Indy to write stories like this Kroll guy in Illinois. Great hit piece. Can you imagine Carl Brizzi publicly attacking someone at Ice Miller the way Birkett does in Kroll's story?

Anonymous said...

Great. Now in addition to exporting pollution via BP, we're sending corrupt legal cronyism to Illinois.

Scrivener's notes, anyone?

To everyone in Illinois: We're not ALL like IM lawyers. We apologize.