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Déjà vu all over again

Friday, Feb 24, 2017

* He doesn’t have an ownership stake in his law firm, he says his salary at the firm is less than his legislative pay and that his total compensation is less than the governor’s official salary and he doesn’t work for or financially benefit from state-related clients. And yet

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, is one of the most powerful people in Springfield, talked about as a possible future president of the Illinois Senate.

He’s also a partner in a Chicago law firm that’s been paid more than $9 million in the past five years for doing legal work for state agencies, government workers’ pension funds and local governments whose citizens he represents in the Senate, a Chicago Sun-Times examination has found.

That covers work done for more than 20 government bodies, including the city of Chicago, Cook County, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the agency that owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

The firm — Burke Burns & Pinelli — has done work for agencies whose budgets Harmon votes on, including the Illinois Department of Transportation, and government pension funds regulated by Harmon and his fellow legislators, as well as the village of Rosemont, one of the suburbs he represents in the Illinois Senate, according to records and interviews. […]

Harmon — who once worked as deputy legal counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago — was elected to the state Senate in 2002.

There’s a whole lot of sizzle and not a lot of steak in that piece, not unlike an eerily similar BGA story from 2012

Since bringing an influential state legislator on board as a partner in 2005, a small Chicago law firm has secured at least $6.3 million in legal work from state agencies that receive funding and oversight from the General Assembly, the Better Government Association has learned.

While that relationship smacks of a conflict of interest, it’s not the only curiosity involving the legislator, state Sen. Don Harmon, and the firm where he’s a partner, Burke Burns & Pinelli Ltd.

The BGA also found that Harmon – a Democrat from Oak Park who once served as deputy legal counsel to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – voted earlier this year on a casino bill that his firm helped craft on behalf of its client, the City of Des Plaines. […]

A BGA review of state financial records shows Burke Burns, a firm of 10 or so attorneys, was paid more than $1 million in each of the past two fiscal years for state-related work.

Overall, the firm was paid more than $6.3 million – or an average of $900,000 a year – from 2006 to 2012 for state-related work, according to interviews, and documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. (Fiscal year 2006 was Harmon’s first full year with the firm.)

By contrast, in the four years before Harmon joined the firm, annual payments exceeded $575,000 only once, topping out at $711,734, records show. However, those totals may be incomplete because several state agencies indicated they no longer had data for fiscal years 2001 and 2002. In addition, some records relating to bond work are not always tracked by state agencies.

Harmon says if all payments were included it would show the firm’s state work hasn’t increased dramatically since his hiring, especially given the rate of inflation. But he declined to disclose actual payments or turn over financial records to the BGA.

* One of the reporters who wrote today’s Sun-Times story was with the BGA when that 2012 story was published. An opinion piece above his name was also published back in 2012. It threw the kitchen sink at Harmon

Harmon’s street cred as a “reformer” or progressive has to be questioned.

Why does his law firm advise public-sector clients not to speak to the media?

Why did he vote to water down the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which ensures journalists and regular citizens can access most government documents?

Why did he accept $300 in campaign donations just a couple months back from D & P Construction, a waste-hauling company that’s repeatedly (and publicly) been linked to the Chicago mob?

Why did he introduce a piece of legislation that would allow office holders to “double dip” – hold two elected positions at once?

Peter Silvestri, a Cook County commissioner and Elmwood Park’s village president, told the BGA that Harmon fronted that bill at his request. After the BGA learned of the legislation, Harmon relayed that he changed his mind and was withdrawing his support.

But about a month later he quietly resurrected the bill in the form of an amendment to an unrelated piece of legislation. When we tried to ask him about the flip-flop, Harmon wouldn’t return our calls. He later told the BGA he regretted getting involved in the matter. The legislation was never approved.

Lastly, although we’re not into branding people with “guilt by association,” it’s worth noting Harmon started out his career as an aide to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who is the ultimate Machine guy – one of the most powerful political figures in the state and one of the largest obstacles to reforming our troubled government system.

This isn’t to say Harmon hasn’t done good things. In fact, he’s worked with the BGA on legislation, including a successful effort to kill the misused and abused “legislative scholarship” program.

But judged through a larger prism, Harmon isn’t challenging the status quo. He is the status quo.

Ergo, today’s piece.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:12 am:

    What a complete nothing-burger. This reporter seems to have a personal issue with one of the most honorable guys in Springfield. Here’s a tip - there’s plenty of real crap to tackle in Springfield. Stop wasting your time on this kind of BS.

  2. - Honeybear - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    Man you are on it Rich.

  3. - Reo Symes, M.D. - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:14 am:

    I remember when Novak went after real stuff.

  4. - Henry Francis - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:20 am:

    Nothing new. No one beats dead horses better than Timmie Novack.

    Anyone find it strange that we seem to be getting fed stories almost daily about penny ante stuff life $38k used SUVs and a lawyer/senator making $100k in his law practice - while our Governor just made $188M passively off of his “investments” and has rung up over $12 BILLION in overdue bills?

  5. - walker - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:21 am:

    Early oppo research and opinion pieces, covering the odds that Harmon is heir apparent.

    Nothing on MJM replacement?

    Odds makers must view Cullerton out of the gate before MJM.

  6. - Anonymous - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:21 am:

    The same BGA that rolls over for Rauner?

  7. - Tom - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:21 am:

    Let the race to replace Cullerton begin. Someone dropped a dime on Harmon.

  8. - Anon - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:22 am:

    Sen. Harmon is one of the most ethical and thoughtful legislators to serve in the General Assembly in my memory. His colleagues and the entire community under the dome know this about Harmon from observing him over a long period of time. This media piece reveals nothing to change what we all know — which is very positive. Too bad public service comes with undeserved slings and arrows. Harmon could have chosen a path of financial reward over public service, and I personally feel grateful he chose the later.

  9. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:31 am:

    ===Early oppo research and opinion pieces===

    From 2012?

  10. - Anonymous - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:36 am:

    Maybe Rauner’s just got so much money, he’ll fund an opponent to run against Harmon next year.

    Fun fact - the last time Harmon had a GOP opponent was 2006 when a young attorney named Jim Rowe ran against him. 10 years later, Mr Rowe was elected States Atty of Kankakee County - as a Democrat.

  11. - Amalia - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:37 am:

    waste of Sun Times space! Rich is right.

    go back to investigating waste in townships. good stories there!

  12. - Amalia - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:39 am:

    oh, and another story the ST could investigate instead of Harmon, over at Mother Jones they are writing about Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC, created in Illinois, Trump business, and some $50million that Trump got from???? and yet you are concentrating on Harmon? a guy who is smart?

  13. - Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:40 am:

    @Henry Francis is 100% right. Stories like this, sad to say, show the sorry state of some “investigative journalism.” Here’s the Sun-Times wasting trees and ink and revealing nothing new or illegal. Meanwhile, our state is “led” by a guy who became a billionaire through financial legerdemain. They don’t write about him — or his ilk — because it’s too hard. It’s too much work. It’s too complicated. It’s much easier to type “clout heavy,” imply shady stuff, slap a “WATCHDOGS” banner on it, and call it a day.

  14. - Lucky Pierre - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:42 am:

    A partner in a law firm is by definition an owner of the firm

  15. - Downstate - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:42 am:

    Inappropriate spending by the state? Seems like something the State Auditor General, Frank Mautino, could jump on. /s/

  16. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:51 am:

    No Lucky it is not. There are two kinds of partners - equity partners and income partners. Equity partners own the firm. Income partners are simply employees with nice titles. Are you Novak and Herguth? Because clearly they don’t understand the difference either.

  17. - Anon - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 10:55 am:

    Lucky Pierre, understand your confusion, but inaccurate. Many years ago, law firm started having “equity partners” and “income partners,” the later having zero ownership interest. So the title “partner” does not necessarily denote ownership.

  18. - A guy - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:02 am:

    ==A partner in a law firm is by definition an owner of the firm==

    Not true Lucky. An Equity Partner is. You can be a partner sans ownership.

    It’s nearly impossible not to have some overlap and still pursue a career outside the GA. Harmon is a good and decent guy. As a partisan GOPer, he’s one guy I would never work against. He’s sincere and reasonable. This is a smear job.

  19. - Not It - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:17 am:

    The BGA is only interested in making headlines and raising money. This is a headline grabber so they spent time on it.

    If you listen to Andy Shaw speak he often boats about how much money and publicity he gets, so it’s pretty obvious where his focus is, and that isn’t actual better government.

  20. - wordslinger - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:20 am:

    Is it possible to plagarize yourself?

  21. - @MisterJayEm - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:23 am:

    “A partner in a law firm is by definition an owner of the firm”

    Others have already explained why this is not true.

    So I’ll merely suggest that Lucky Pierre’s bold, yet false, assertion be kept in mind when such bold assertions are posted in the future.

    – MrJM

  22. - @MisterJayEm - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:26 am:

    “Is it possible to plagiarize yourself?”

    Not only is it possible, The New Yorker’s Jonah Lehrer made a nice career out of it, e.g.

    – MrJM

  23. - Henry Francis - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:30 am:

    The top partner at the firm, Mary Pat Burns, was reappointed by the Rauner administration to serve as a judge in the court of claims.

    Wonder why that wasn’t included in the story.

    Was it because it didn’t fit the slanted angle of the story?

    Or was it because it wasn’t included in the 2012 piece?

  24. - Rod - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:35 am:

    Senator Harmon has many defenders on this blog. He is defended because he relatively ethical in comparison to most Democrat machine politicians in Chicago or the Republican George Ryan family machine in Kankakee County. Ethical is a relative term in Illinois.

  25. - Henry Francis - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:35 am:

    Boy LP. You sure are a persistent rascal.

  26. - Grand Avenue - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:37 am:

    Harmon does not have a reputation as a “Reformer”. Progressive, yes (and well-earned), but no one sees Harmon as a reformer - they see him as an effective progressive legislator - and if that involves some messy sausage making, so be it. Just like Barbara Flynn Currie or Toni Preckwinkle - unashamedly progressive and unashamedly part of the Democratic establishment.

  27. - wordslinger - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:40 am:

    Rod, I’m sure all appreciate you letting them know why they think the way they do.

    Kind of crazy that they spoke for themselves, when you’re there to do it for them.

  28. - SKI - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 11:55 am:

    Did anyone else find this amusing?

    “Why did he accept $300 in campaign donations just a couple months back from D & P Construction, a waste-hauling company that’s repeatedly (and publicly) been linked to the Chicago mob?

    A $300 campaign donation?!? Like that will make the mob own you.

  29. - Now now - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 12:08 pm:

    Despite all the Harmon-Lovers out there, this still reeks of pay-to-play. Period. There is waste in Springfield and in local governments but it does not take away from this “harmless” reality.

  30. - Anonymous - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 12:26 pm:

    Why oh why are we so cynical about our politicians? They are “giving back”. And when it hits the fan, they “want to spend more time with their family”. Yes, avoid public meetings because that might unintentionally force a self-evaluation. Or not.

  31. - Hamilton - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 12:36 pm:

    - 990s show Andy Shaw’s salary is $200k+
    - From above, Senator Harmon’s combined salary is less $178k

    I just think these facts bear some merit in this discussion.

  32. - chi - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 12:40 pm:

    It certainly makes it hard to recruit good candidates to run for office when they are sure to be subjected to baseless attacks like this in exchange for an 80-hour-a-week job 3 hours from your house that pays a fourth (in many cases) of what you’d make in the private sector.

  33. - Henry Francis - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 1:13 pm:

    Cmon people. If Harmon was all about the Benjamin’s he never would have left the fat paychecks at Mayer Brown.

    Rauner lost one of his former deputy general counsels who headed back to those greener pastures.

  34. - City Zen - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 1:20 pm:

    == 990s show Andy Shaw’s salary is $200k+ From above, Senator Harmon’s combined salary is less $178k==

    Does Shaw also have $753,111.50 in his campaign fund?

  35. - Texas Red - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 1:40 pm:

    Influence peddling can be very lucrative and the payment comes in many forms

  36. - walker - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 1:58 pm:

    ===Early oppo research and opinion pieces===

    From 2012?==

    No, I meant that now is “early” vs. when Harmon might replace Cullerton.

  37. - lech w - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 2:01 pm:

    The big question is what type of partner ; equity or non-equity ? I did not see that mentioned above. If he is an equity partner then when and if he were to cash out of the firm he would/could get his initial cash contribution refunded, or even a larger payment, It would all depend on the profitability of his firm.

  38. - SAP - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 2:22 pm:

    So I guess a couple months on the Tech Review staff 20-some years ago makes you a Madigan pawn for life.

  39. - City Zen - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 2:22 pm:

    == If Harmon was all about the Benjamin’s he never would have left the fat paychecks at Mayer Brown.==

    I believe Harmon’s previous firm merged with or was acquired by Mayer Brown. I seem to recall Mayer Brown having large layoffs of partners and associates a few years after. Not to say that Harmon laid-off, but with the big law firms a “fat paycheck” is no guarantee.

  40. - chi - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 2:39 pm:

    =Influence peddling can be very lucrative and the payment comes in many forms=

    This sounds like a fortune cookie. If you have something material to allege, please do so.

  41. - Henry Francis - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 2:41 pm:

    Zen - you’re incorrect.

  42. - A guy - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 3:06 pm:

    Of all the ripe and deserving targets to justifiably go after….Don Harmon?? Makes no sense at all.

    Regular commenters know what direction I lean. The eye of the needle you want people to walk through would mean our GA would have to move the Dome off this planet and above the clouds and stars.

    Don is one of the very decent guys in Government. We’re making it hard for these kinds of people to serve. That’s a mistake.

  43. - City Zen - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 3:30 pm:

    @Henry - Wrong on the firm that was acquired by Mayer Brown or that he was an original employee of Mayer Brown?

  44. - Shytown - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 3:35 pm:

    What a hogwash story. Sounds like a competitor for senate prez is anxious to leave him bruised.

  45. - Dolphin - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 4:17 pm:

    How is this any different from what so many claim to be conflicts for Madigan? It’s the same kind of circumstantial nonsense. Yet, many seem to think it’s not a big deal because it’s Harmon.

  46. - Enough Said - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 4:22 pm:

    Bottom line is - this is a non-issue. Don is a decent, respectable, effective legislator. He works hard for his district and the state of Illinois. Perfect? No, but I’d take Don over many legislators who have not been raked over the coals and should be.

  47. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 4:38 pm:

    Lech, he’s non-equity and they know it. These guys either don’t know or don’t care about the difference.

    Zen, pretty sure he went to Mayer Brown directly. He probably made 4-5 times more there than he makes now according to the story.

    And Now Now, Don’t know how it screams pay to play for you when the firm has done work for the state for decades - for governors of both parties and that Rauner reappointed the lead partner to the Court of Claims. Maybe they’re just good at their jobs.

  48. - Amalia - Friday, Feb 24, 17 @ 4:43 pm:

    despite my disagreement with the reason for the microscope on Harmon, I am deeply thankful for the press, and investigations. Given what happened today in DC….CNN/BBC/LATimes/NYTimes barred from the gaggle and conservative outlets allowed in… access and work is more and more vital to preserve our democracy. Rich touched on this some weeks ago with the winnowing of the ranks of reporters in SF. that is a different issue, but, still, it shows how when the press is not available or involved, sunlight cannot provide a disinfectant. press on, even when I disagree.

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