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Berrios sues over fines while Burke may face ethics probe

Monday, Jan 29, 2018

* 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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments
  1. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:14 am:

    The Berrios story is just remarkable. Is there nobody in that office who can look him in the eye and tell him that politically this is just about the dumbest thing you could possibly do - yes, Tom Shaer, I’m looking at you.

    What chutzpah. What gall. What a disgusting sense of entitlement. Can we please get rid of him now.


  2. - Just Observing - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:33 am:

    From a legal viewpoint, Berrios might have a point. I’m guessing the argument will be center on the authority of a home rule county (Cook being the only one).


  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:33 am:

    Yeah, I’m sure Burke is shakin’ in his custom-made shoes over a “city ethics probe.”

    What kind of hammer do they have? Cut you off from the council coffee pot?


  4. - input for the library - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:38 am:

    Isn’t part of Joe Berrios’ message that he’s a political ladder climber assailed by the White media for sins that get less criticism when perpetrated by Irish pols on the South Side?

    Berrios suit is arguing the people who profit off government–an overwhelmingly White male group–should be able to make unlimited campaign contributions?

    Insiders (overwhelmingly White guys) giving unlimited amount of money is a kind of politics that keeps women and People of Color out of office.

    If Joe Berrios’ goal is to win the March 20th primary, it seems like he should be playing this some other way.

    Surely Berrios & Madigan have ways to move money around in the system without relying on property tax appeals firms dumping large amounts of money into Berrios’ campaign coffers directly. Right?


  5. - Ron Burgundy - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:41 am:

    Berrios wrapping himself in the flag to protect his tax appeals lawyer contributions is cute. Let’s see how that works out for him politically.


  6. - Robert the Bruce - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:42 am:

    I’m not sure why commenters are surprised by Berrios’ moves.

    This is how he has played the game for years - shameless, defiant, unapologetic.


  7. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:43 am:

    Yeah, I’m sure Burke is shakin’ in his custom-made shoes over a “city ethics probe.”

    What kind of hammer do they have? Cut you off from the council coffee pot?

    From the Trib: “If the ethics board were to find Burke violated the city ethics rules, he could face a fine of between $500 and $1,000, according to the code.”

    So cutting coffee privileges is probably a bigger threat.

    – MrJM


  8. - anon2 - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 10:49 am:

    Berrios could’ve avoided this public excoriation by retiring at the end of his term instead of running for re-election. He still may win, but at substantial cost to his reputation and psyche.


  9. - TKMH - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:29 am:

    Interesting to see Berrios go full Mitch McConnell on this issue.


  10. - Loop Lady - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:48 am:

    Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving public servant…have fun Joe…


  11. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 11:53 am:

    Yet again we see why der Slinger wins each year.


  12. - Ron Burgundy - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 1:09 pm:

    –“If the ethics board were to find Burke violated the city ethics rules, he could face a fine of between $500 and $1,000, according to the code.”

    So cutting coffee privileges is probably a bigger threat.–

    Heh. The dinner bill where the deal was cut is higher than that.


  13. - pskila - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 1:59 pm:

    Berrio’s cognitive dissonance is so remarkable…smh..I guess you do dirt for the bidding of this big wig lawyers and the patronage along with i.e. city jobs and government positions…is second nature to break the habit.


  14. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 1:59 pm:

    ==Heh. The dinner bill where the deal was cut is higher than that.==

    Yeah, those Erie Cafe bills can get up there…


  15. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 29, 18 @ 2:53 pm:

    ==Yeah, those Erie Cafe bills can get up there…==

    $235,846.67 since January 2010 expensed to political funds controlled by Berrios -

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1jno0Cr4hGNw8E4y66PEDUWdiYBU6qlIYjZ6zW08tcHE/edit?usp=sharing


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