The mayor's millionaire club, part II 

A look at Rahm Emanuel's calendar shows how wealth and access, far more than party identity or ideology, have come to comand the attention of politicians—leaving everyday people out of the conversation

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More recently, the Griffins pitched in more than $1 million to Restore Our Future, Romney's PAC, and earlier this month sponsored a fund-raiser at the Pump Room expected to rake in $3.3 million for the Romney campaign, according to a Sun-Times article by Abdon Pallasch. Four years ago they gave money to both Obama and John McCain.

The couple's support for conservative causes doesn't end with the presidential race. They've also given $1.5 million to American Crossroads, a PAC founded by Karl Rove. And let's not forget the money—totalling $1.5 million, according to the Chicago Tribune—that the Griffins contributed to Americans for Prosperity, an organization created by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded efforts to bust unions and roll back environmental protections.

Still, on educational issues, the Griffins are frequently on the same side of the fight as Emanuel. They donated $500,000 to Stand for Children Illinois, which last year joined forces with the mayor to lead the legislative effort to limit the bargaining powers of the Chicago Teachers Union.

click to enlarge Rahm Emanuel met with conservative, Republican donors
  • Rahm Emanuel carved out time last fall to meet with major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama . . .
click to enlarge Rahm Emanuel meets with Mitt Romney donors
  • . . . including some of the biggest financial backers of eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
  • Gage Skidmore

We'd love to tell you why Griffin likes Emanuel so much or what they discussed during their meeting. But Griffin, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.

On October 3, Emanuel set aside half an hour for Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, widely known for defending the "right" of banks to make a profit and proposing to charge account holders a $5 monthly debit card fee. The Bank of America PAC has given millions of dollars to pols on both sides of the aisle, ranging from Emanuel to congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

Emanuel has a propensity for meeting with powerful bankers. On November 30 the mayor slated 45 minutes for Jim Rohr, the $16-million-a-year CEO of PNC Bank, a donor to Romney, the Republican National Committee, conservative former senator Rick Santorum, and the Eagle Forum, which is dedicated to cracking down on "illegal aliens," limiting abortions, and ending "multiculturalism" in schools—while also freeing the U.S. from United Nations "encroachment."

Incidentally, Rohr didn't allow his free-market principles to stop PNC from accepting a $48 million subsidy from Pennsylvania taxpayers to build a high-rise in downtown Pittsburgh.

"Rahm Emanuel should be the mayor for everybody, but he seems to be catering to those who are able to contribute to him, who have some clout, and he leaves out the voices everyday Chicagoans." —Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative

Emanuel's defenders, including lifelong Democrats, say Emanuel is just playing the game. "He has to keep cozy relationships with the big money guys," says Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. Emanuel squeezed in 15 minutes for Brookins last November.

And his allies say he's eager to meet with anyone who can bring jobs to Chicago. "Mayor Emanuel is intensely committed to improving our economy by providing jobs, training, and opportunity, and stabilizing our city's finances," says Michael Sacks, who runs Grosvenor Capital Management, a hedge fund firm, and informally serves as one of the mayor's top advisers.

Emanuel may see his one-on-ones with Wall Street and corporate leaders as economic development for Chicago, but at the core they're private meetings involving millions in public dollars.

On September 15, Emanuel hosted an hour-long meeting in his City Hall office with Terry Duffy, executive chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, state house speaker Michael Madigan, and state senate president John Cullerton. Duffy was of course well-known to the politicians. Earlier that year he'd publicly threatened to move the Merc—one of the wealthiest commodities exchanges in the world—out of Illinois to reduce its state tax bills. Not so publicly, the Merc had sent out checks—Emanuel's campaign fund received $200,000 the previous fall while Madigan collected $100,000 on top of the $122,500 he'd received over the past few years.

The men worked out a deal. In mid-December the state General Assembly approved legislation slicing the Merc's tax bill by an estimated $125 million over the next two years alone. Governor Pat Quinn—who received $65,000 from the Merc in 2010 but was curiously absent from the meeting at City Hall—signed it into law.

Immediately afterward, Emanuel issued a statement praising the move: "This tax reform legislation will protect thousands of jobs in Chicago and keep the CME Group where it belongs, here in the city."

For the record, CME is cutting jobs in Illinois as it moves toward electronic trading.

At no time in the three-month period we surveyed did Emanuel schedule a meeting with any of the economists, activists, business leaders, or elected officials who opposed CME's tax breaks.

A spokesman for CME was blunt when asked about the meetings at City Hall. "I don't have any information for you," he said.

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