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Former Obama aide fined for illegally lobbying Chicago mayor on Uber's behalf

Bill Ruthhart and Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- A former senior executive for Uber who once served as Barack Obama's campaign manager has been fined $90,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for illegally lobbying Mayor Rahm Emanuel on behalf of the ride-hailing company.

The board voted 5-0 to find that David Plouffe violated city ethics rules by failing to register as a lobbyist after contacting Emanuel to help the company on regulations for picking up travelers at Chicago's two airports.

Plouffe's lobbying violation only became public after Emanuel in December released hundreds of personal emails related to public business under the pressure of two open records lawsuits alleging the mayor violated the state's open records law.

Included was a message Plouffe sent to the mayor Nov. 20, 2015:

"Assume both of us thought the airport issue was settled and we would never have to discuss again, but unfortunately two significant new hurdles were introduced," wrote Plouffe, the political strategist who managed Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and in 2015 was Uber's senior vice president of policy and strategy. "Coming to you because of their severity that would prevent us from operating. We were all set to announce Monday we were beginning pickups."

Plouffe, who like Emanuel served in the Obama White House, went on to describe concerns Uber had about pickup fees and the requirement to display an airport pickup placard in Uber vehicles.

"Sure this comes as much of a surprise to you as us, since there was an agreement in place," Plouffe wrote. "I hope we can resolve these issues before the holiday. Our team is eager to move forward and begin operating at the airports in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday -- as you called for and we'd like to deliver on the schedule for you."

Emanuel, who was traveling at the time, quickly responded.

"Please speak to Negron and David on my staff. Impossible for me to address from China," wrote Emanuel, referring to Michael Negron, the mayor's chief of policy, and David Spielfogel, then his senior adviser.

In its final determination, the Board of Ethics stated that both Uber and Plouffe "do not dispute the allegations" of violating the city's lobbying ordinance or contest the possibility of a fine. Uber and Plouffe argued he should only be subject to a $1,000 fine, according to the ethics board.

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