Follow the Soapbox
International Business Times
By Matthew Cunningham-Cook @mattcunninghamc
David Sirota @davidsirota
April 02 2015 8:25 AM EDT

 Heading into the final days of campaigning for re-election, incumbent Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has faced intensifying criticism for being too close to the city’s financial elite. Precisely how close, though, remains a matter of conjecture -- and most likely will remain so until after the Tuesday runoff vote. That's because Emanuel’s administration has for weeks blocked the release of correspondence between his administration and one of the Democratic mayor’s top donors, Michael Sacks. The administration has also refused to release details about tens of millions of dollars in shadowy no-bid city payments to some of Emanuel's largest campaign contributors.

Sacks did not respond to an International Business Times request for him to personally release the emails. Emanuel’s office declined IBTimes’ request for comment about why the city blocked the release of the records. Emanuel had publicly promised “to have the most open, accountable and transparent government that the City of Chicago has ever seen.”

    The CEO of the Chicago private equity firm Grosvenor, Sacks has been described as Emanuel’s closest ally in the private sector, and has been called Emanuel’s “go-to guy” and his “top troubleshooter.” He and his wife have donated over $1.6 million to Emanuel’s campaign and affiliated PACs and, according to the Chicago Tribune, he has lavished the mayor with gifts.

When Emanuel won election in 2011, he promptly appointed Sacks to serve as vice chairman of World Business Chicago, a quasi-public agency that oversees the city’s outreach to the business community. Sacks later took a lead role in negotiating the city’s controversial contract with the private firm that operates Chicago’s parking meters. Sacks' firm also has financial ties to one of Chicago’s largest pension funds through a so-called fund of funds, and the firm does business with the Illinois Teachers Retirement System.

Illinois’ open records law mandates that communications to and from public officials like Emanuel be made available for public inspection. But as Emanuel’s runoff campaign headed into its final days -- with the mayor owning a big lead over his rival, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia -- the mayor’s administration denied IBTimes’ March 6 open records request for all emails between Sacks, the mayor and the mayor’s chief of staff.

Pressed by a reporter about that decision a week before the election, the administration abruptly changed its response, saying it will now consider providing the records after a redaction process. But Emanuel's spokeswoman declined to commit to providing the government documents before the election. The city has disclosed only that there are more than 1,500 messages between Emanuel, his chief of staff and the Grosvenor CEO.

Sacks’ private equity firm is one of the largest in the industry, with offices from Tokyo to London. But because there is so little disclosure about private equity holdings in general, tracking any potential benefits that Sacks’ firm may have gained from his alliance with Emanuel is difficult. Critics say the Emanuel administration’s narrow interpretation of state open records law makes any kind of transparency all but impossible.

“Mayor Emanuel's promised a more transparent Chicago,” said Maryam Judar, the executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, a good government group. “But is the information and data that the public and reporters want, are they available? Not really, as this case proves. Thousands of emails that are subject to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], but they're not being revealed to the public. The Emanuel administration talks about transparency but doesn't want to be transparent itself.”

In recent months, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, has released more than 280,000 emails from the time he was in office, and -- after facing criticism for using a private email address -- former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for 30,000 of her emails to be released. By contrast, Emanuel officials initially denied the open records request on the grounds that releasing 1,545 emails would be “unduly burdensome.”

Matt Topic, a civil rights attorney and Illinois FOIA expert, said that this particular rationale has been increasingly deployed by Emanuel’s administration to create a de facto blanket exemption on disclosing public documents the mayor does not want released.

“The 'unduly burdensome' exemption is entirely overused in the City of Chicago,” he told IBTimes. “Public agencies need to prove that the burden overrides the public interest, and it’s unfortunately very common for agencies to fail to do so. The exemption is used to prevent the public from knowing highly relevant information about what their government is doing.”

In rejecting the open records request, Emanuel officials also ignored a specific part of Illinois law that does not permit it to use the “unduly burdensome” exemption. They did not respond to IBTimes' open records request in the amount of time permitted by the law. When that happens, the law states that a governmental agency “may not treat the request as unduly burdensome.”

Mother J
By Molly Redden
Fri Sep. 5, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

GOP lawmakers called the session to try to override several of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes. At the top of the list: A bill that would force women seeking an abortion—including victims of rape and incest—to wait 72 hours between their first visit to a clinic and the procedure itself. Nixon vetoed the bill in June.

A vote could come as early as September 10. If the bill receives the two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate required to override Nixon's veto, Missouri would become the third state, after South Dakota and Utah, to impose a three-day waiting period, the longest in the country. A veto override is nearly certain: In May, when the bill first passed, it received a veto-proof majority in the House and was one vote shy of this benchmark in the Senate; a Republican senator who was absent that day intends to support the bill.

Missouri already requires a woman who wants an abortion to wait 24 hours from her first visit before obtaining the procedure. "Taking it from one day to three days? I don't think it's creating an extra obstacle for the mothers," says Republican Rep. Kevin Elmer, the bill's sponsor in the House.

Democrats and reproductive rights advocates who oppose the bill say that a three-day waiting period is burdensome to women who don't live near St. Louis, the location of the state's only abortion clinic; those women would have to make two trips out of town in order to have an abortion or stay in St. Louis for several nights. The law, opponents say, would pose an extra hardship for women who can't afford to miss several days of work.

"A 72-hour waiting period is completely absurd," argues Democratic Sen. Jolie Justus, the Senate minority leader. "The reality is, they simply want to outlaw abortion in the state of Missouri."

Missouri lawmakers proposed more than two dozen abortion restrictions this year, all of them targeted at the St. Louis clinic. Missouri already has more abortion-related restrictions on the book than almost any other state in the country. Abortion providers must offer women the opportunity to view an ultrasound of the fetus, and abortion clinics in Missouri must meet the requirements of an ambulatory surgical center; these requirements are expensive to meet and they are not medically necessary for most abortions. These laws have resulted in the closure of all but one of the state's clinics.

"The reason this [bill] is so bad is that it's layered on top of decades of some of the most horrible legislation relating to women's health I've seen anywhere in the country," Justus says. She notes that even some Democrats who have favorable ratings from the advocacy group Right to Life opposed the bill in May. "It's that restrictive," she says.

Unlike Utah's law, the Missouri bill does not include an exception for women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest—one reason why Nixon vetoed it. But Elmer tells Mother Jones he never considered adding such an exception.

"I believe that life begins at conception," he says. "And I'm not to discriminate against any life because of how it was conceived. I don't disregard the significance of the tragic events that those women suffer from. But we're still weighing that against the right of the unborn child to live…We're asking all mothers just to give it another 48 hours to think about what is it they're doing when they kill their unborn child."

Nixon's office did not reply to a request for comment.

Democratic opponents of the bill warn that a three-day waiting period could be tossed out in court. A federal judge blocked South Dakota's waiting-period law in June 2012, saying that the law was unconstitutional because it placed an "undue burden" on women seeking to exercise their right to an abortion. (Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union dropped that lawsuit in December 2012 in order to focus on other litigation.)

Elmer says he is optimistic that the law would survive a similar court challenge. For now, he is focused on making sure the bill wins the required supermajority in the House. "This is legislation," says Elmer. "So you can never be confident. But I like our chances."