CITY HALL — A father is expected to help his daughter run for office in a political campaign — especially when he's a Democratic ward committeeman — but the office space former alderman Dick Mell is providing daughter Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) appears to violate contribution limits.
That's the position of Kristin Crowell, executive director of the progressive political group United Working Families, backed in an informal statement by the legal counsel for the Chicago Board of Ethics.
"We believe all candidates should be held to the letter of the law," Crowell said Thursday following a news conference at the Thompson Center Downtown. "There should be an investigation, and if what we believe is true, they should be held accountable."
Crowell and United Working Families cite quarterly reports submitted to the state by Citizens for Deb Mell, the alderman's political organization. The most recent report shows a $300 monthly "in-kind" contribution from Dick Mell to the organization for rent for office space at 3655 N. Kedzie Ave. The contributions go back years.
Throughout his career, Dick Mell has been an unapologetic supporter of political patronage, and he remains the 33rd Ward's Democratic committeeman.
The potential problem is that, according to the city Data Portal, Dick Mell is also a registered lobbyist. Asked about the in-kind contributions, Richard Superfine, legal counsel for the Board of Ethics, pointed to the city ordinance that "limits any registered lobbyist to $1,500 in political contributions" to any one official over a calendar year. The $300-a-month contributions would add up to more than double that.
Both Mells brushed off the accusations at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.
"I have no idea about that," Dick Mell said while visiting with his former colleagues in the conference room behind the Council Chamber.
"I didn't even hear that," Deb Mell said, adding, "I'll look into that."
United Working Families, which is affiliated with the Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union, has endorsed teacher Tim Meegan in the 33rd Ward aldermanic race. It held an endorsement announcement Thursday at the Thompson Center to back the members of the City Council's Progressive Reform Caucus, as well as other aldermanic candidates and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago) for mayor.
"We do research, and we want to help get facts out at the aldermanic level," Crowell said. "The city has a history, a legacy of machine politics," she added, and candidates, particularly challengers to incumbents, often feel "the deck is stacked against them."
Crowell said the group was weighing filing formal charges with the Board of Ethics or Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan, adding, "We're looking into the best way to do that."
According to the city's Ethics Ordinance, the penalty for improper contributions is a fine of $1,000 to $5,000, or three times the total amount of the improper contributions.
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