On its face, Chicagos municipal pension system is an integral part of the Chicago city government. The system is included in the citys budget, it is directly funded by the city, and its various boards of trustees include city officials and mayoral appointees.
Yet when it comes to enforcing the citys anti-corruption laws in advance of the Chicagos closely watched 2015 municipal election, Mayor Rahm Emanuels administration is suddenly arguing that the pension funds are not part of the city government at all.
The counterintuitive declaration came last month from the mayor-appointed ethics commission, responding to Chicago aldermens request for an investigation of campaign contributions to Emanuel from the financial industry.
The request followed disclosures that executives at firms managing Chicago pension money have made more than $600,000 worth of donations to Emanuel.
The contributions flowed to the mayor despite a city ordinance and an executive order by Emanuel himself restricting mayoral campaign contributions from city contractors.
Brushing off the lawmakers complaint about Emanuels donations from the financial industry, the mayors ethics commission issued a nonbinding legal opinion arguing that Chicagos pension systems are not agencies or departments of the city, and thus firms that contract with them are not doing or seeking to do business with the city.
The commissions interpretation means financial firms business with Chicago pension funds should be considered exempt from city ethics laws.