* 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.