Mayor Rahm Emanuel has returned a $10,000 campaign donation from a lobbyist for a tech firm disqualified from a city program this week after the Tribune raised questions about potential violations of the mayor's self-imposed limits on political fundraising, an Emanuel spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.
The action by Emanuel came a day after he announced he would return $15,000 in donations from several key figures behind the CityScan tech firm that potentially violated the mayor's executive order banning contributions from vendors seeking city business. The company was also removed from the list of firms prequalified to get a city contract under Emanuel's municipal marketing program.
The newspaper also raised questions about the donation from Michael Alvarez because another Emanuel executive order bans contributions to the mayor from any registered city lobbyist. Alvarez, who represents a number of clients at City Hall, is also an elected member of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. His donation to Emanuel, recorded in December, was made as a transfer to the mayor from Alvarez's campaign fund.
Alvarez and the mayor's office contended that the donation was not a violation of the lobbyist ban because it was made as a transfer from one politician to another.
"It was not a violation," Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said in a statement. "It was returned to avoid even the appearance of conflict."
Alvarez issued his own statement Thursday that mirrored that language.
"While the contribution from my campaign committee is not a violation of the executive order, I respect the Mayor for taking the extra step to avoid even the appearance of a violation," he said in the statement.
A CityScan spokesman said the company terminated its relationship with Alvarez in March.
On Wednesday, Hamilton said the mayor's office took action on CityScan because the firm "may have violated" the executive order banning donations from potential vendors.
The firm responded to a broad request for proposals by the city and was prequalified to seek work under Emanuel's marketing proposal, which had already resulted in a no-bid billboard contract to another campaign donor. CityScan uses digital mapping technology to find billboards that do not have the required permits, potentially boosting a city's ability to collect fees.
The invitation CityScan responded to includes language forbidding political contributions from those seeking city business.
However, three $5,000 donations were made by CityScan principals after the company made the city's shortlist. A company spokesman acknowledged that there were conversations with City Hall about work it hoped to one day get but said the firm's leaders did not believe the gifts were a violation of the ban.