* From earlier this month…
Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios is facing $41,000 in fines for failing to return campaign contributions from property tax appeals lawyers whose donations exceeded legal limits, according to a pair of new rulings by the county ethics board.
The rulings raise the level of scrutiny on campaign contributions given by appeals lawyers to Berrios, who doubles as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and depends heavily on their donations in raising political funds. The action also ignites another high-profile showdown with the county Board of Ethics, with which he previously clashed over nepotism issues.
At the center of the ethics board’s rulings is a 2016 county ordinance stating that donors who seek “official action” with the county may contribute no more than $750 in nonelection years. Attorneys for Berrios are seeking to overturn the rulings, arguing that the county limits are unconstitutional and that higher limits set by state law should apply, among other objections.
The fines add to the controversy surrounding Berrios, who is heading into a March primary as he bids for a third four-year term as assessor.
* Friday night…
Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios filed a lawsuit Friday that challenges a county ordinance limiting campaign donations, saying it unconstitutionally restricts the free-speech rights of contributors.
“I plan to make sure that every resident in Cook County is afforded the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment right when it comes to contributing to their candidate of choice, whoever that may be,” Berrios said in a statement.
Berrios also maintains that the Illinois Constitution gives governing authority over election issues to the state and that Cook County does not have the power to set its own limits.
The lawsuit against the Cook County Board of Commissioners and its Board of Ethics opens a new front in a battle over the contributions Berrios accepts, particularly from property tax appeals attorneys who seek to lower real estate assessments through his office.
* Also on Friday…
Progressive Democrat Fritz Kaegi, candidate for Cook County Assessor, issued a statement on Friday in response to embattled incumbent Assessor Joe Berrios’ absence from the scheduled candidate interview session with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. The statement follows:
“Assessor Berrios’ skipping of the Sun-Times editorial board meeting is another slap in face for Cook County taxpayers. Berrios continues to dodge any opportunity–and he’s had plenty–to come clean about issues that have been plaguing his office for years…”
* Friday morning…
Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1) endorsed progressive Democrat Fritz Kaegi for Cook County Tax Assessor on Friday, joining a growing list of Democratic Party leaders rejecting embattled incumbent Joe Berrios.
* In related news, this is from last week…
Influential Ald. Ed Burke has sidelined an effort to increase the property taxes paid by the owners of two buildings his law firm represents on assessment appeals, a move one Chicago City Council colleague and ethics experts say could violate conflict-of-interest rules.
The issue arose last week after 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz, joined by nearly two dozen aldermen, introduced a measure that would force Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to take legal steps to try to increase the assessed property values of seven prime commercial buildings. Munoz contended the properties were sold for more than twice as much as Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios valued them.
* Friday night…
City ethics officials are looking into whether longtime Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, violated ethics rules when he sidelined an effort to increase the property taxes paid by the owners of two buildings his law firm represents, according to the alderman whose effort he blocked.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, said the Chicago Board of Ethics told him it would take up the issue as soon as next month.
The machine is just having a grand ol’ time these days.