“Do you have any conflicts of interest that would be an issue with you taking this job?”
Many people have probably asked or been asked this question in a job interview. It’s a responsible way to head off any potential ethical conflicts and a common sense, routine pre-employment question—except in the office of one of Chicago’s most powerful aldermen.
Project Six has found that Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) employs a registered lobbyist who represents some of the largest real estate developers in the city as his chief of staff. Aside from being ripe with potential ethical conflicts, tax dollars have likely been put at risk because a registered lobbyist has the direct authority to negotiate for both sides of zoning and real estate deals in the heart of Chicago.
Madeleine Doering (also known as Madeleine Hill) is a registered lobbyist for two large Chicago-based developers—M. Fishman & Co. and Wirtz Realty Corporation. Additionally, even though it is not her official title, Doering is currently working as the chief of staff for Alderman Reilly. Evidence shows she negotiates with developers on behalf of Alderman Reilly, as well as overseeing administrative duties in his aldermanic office.
The 42nd Ward—which Reilly represents—is one of the most heavily developed in the city. It encompasses the financial district inside the Loop, River North, Navy Pier and many other highly populated business and residential neighborhoods.
Reilly is also a member of the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, which nearly all development projects in Chicago must pass through.
Doering was a long-time city employee, starting with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development in 2004, and served as Reilly’s chief of staff from 2008 until 2013, when she supposedly entered the private sector. However, emails and other records obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from Project Six show Doering working in a close and seemingly authoritative position within Reilly’s aldermanic office while simultaneously working as a lobbyist for major developers.
Doering has been paid more than $200,000 since 2015 from Reilly’s political committee and at least $10,000 a month for her lobbying activities.
Madeleine Doering has worked for more than a decade inside and out of Chicago government, specializing in zoning and development policy in the city. However, after Doering left City Hall to enter the private sector, the line between her public service for Chicago taxpayers and work for private real estate clients became incredibly blurred.
The following is a timeline of Doering’s career as reflected in public records. The names Doering and Hill are often used interchangeably:
August 1, 2004 – Madeleine Doering starts work at the Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD). [i]
November 19, 2007 – Doering tenders a letter of resignation at the DPD but offers to remain on until December 14, 2007. [ii]
January 1, 2008 – Doering is hired as an assistant to Alderman Brendan Reilly. [iii]
January 20, 2009 – Doering obtains a name change (in city records) to Madeleine Hill. [iv]
November 16, 2011 – Doering is identified as chief of staff to Alderman Reilly in Loop North News. [v]
May 2012 – Doering is identified as an employee of Alderman Reilly in the Chicago Union Station Master Plan Study. [vi]
April 26, 2013 – Doering resigns from Alderman Reilly’s office and enters the private sector with a position at the public relations firm Res Publica Group. [vii]
June 24, 2014 – Despite being supposedly out of the public sector, Doering is involved in an email chain with former Chicago Commissioner of Planning and Development Andrew Mooney. She complains of developers who “appeal to the Alderman/me whenever they don’t like something.” [viii]
September 5, 2014 – Now Hill, she is identified in a news story as employed as a vice president at Res Publica Group. [ix]
November 26, 2014 – Doering emails Lynette Wilson, a city employee at the DPD, informing her that she (Doering) will be handling a zoning matter on behalf of Alderman Reilly. [x]
January 2015 – Doering is part of an email chain with a Chicago Committee on Finance employee concerning the timely filling of aldermanic invoices, an administrative aldermanic duty. [xi]
January 20, 2015 – Hill is identified by the State Street Commission as returning to Reilly’s office in a consulting role. [xii]
January 28, 2015 – Doering is identified by lobbyist Mitchell Feldman in his lobbyist activity report. “Discussion with Madeleine Doering regarding 830 N. Michigan signage” is categorized as a lobbying activity for City Council/Alderman. [xiii]
March 11, 2015 – Doering states in an email with a developer’s representative: “As I explained from the onset, I would be conducting the review on the behalf of and with the Alderman.” [xiv]
March 17, 2015 – Hill incorporates VX Consulting. [xv]
October 1, 2015 – Hill enters into a lobbying agreement with Wirtz Realty Corporation. [xvi]
October 15, 2015 – Hill enters into a lobbying agreement with Mark Fishman (M. Fishman & Co.). [xvii]
December 22, 2015 – Hill files her yearly registration as a lobbyist with the Chicago Board of Ethics. [xviii]
April 20, 2016 – Hill files her yearly registration as a lobbyist with the Chicago Board of Ethics. [xix]
March 14, 2016 – Hill is sent a letter, addressed to Alderman Reilly’s City Hall office, concerning a development groundbreaking occurring in the 42nd Ward. [xx]
March 26, 2016 – Doering is identified as a spokesperson for M. Fishman in DNAinfo. [xxi]
August 2, 2016 – Doering is included on an email from the Chicago Department of Public Health concerning mental health training available to “Aldermen, Chiefs-of-Staff, Constituent Services Staff, Office Reception Staff, Community Event Coordinators, and Schedulers.” [xxii]
September 21, 2016 – Doering is included on an email sent from a legislative aide to Alderman Pat O’Connor concerning the scheduling of the Committee on Workforce Development and Audit October meeting. [xxiii]
Although she is identified as a consultant to Alderman Reilly’s office on his political filings with the state, there is ample evidence that Doering plays a far greater role than a “consultant” in the day-to-day operations of the alderman’s office. Emails acquired by FOIA show many examples of Doering acting as Reilly’s chief of staff—while simultaneously being paid to lobby for real estate developers:
- June 19, 2014 – In a communication regarding a development in the 42nd Ward, Doering was asked, “Would the Alderman be willing to weigh in to reiterate his support … and ask that it be expedited?” [xxiv]
- January 21, 2015 – Doering communicated with development representatives to ensure Alderman Reilly’s preferences are reflected in development proposals. [xxv]
- January 26, 2015 – Doering communicated with the City regarding Reilly’s aldermanic expense fund usage. [xxvi]
- March 11, 2015 – Doering conducted proposed development reviews “on [Alderman Reilly’s] behalf” during the 2015 aldermanic elections. [xxvii]
- April 10, 2015 – Doering chastised a development representative for attempting to “go around Alderman Reilly” by meeting with the DPD without consent from the aldermanic office. [xxviii]
- August 2, 2016 – Doering received information concerning health benefits available to aldermanic staffs. [xxix]
- September 21, 2016 – Doering received scheduling information concerning City Council committees. [xxx]
Doering can also often be found in City Council meetings, assisting Alderman Reilly on legislative and administrative business. [xxxi]
Looking at the collection of evidence, a reasonable assessment of Doering’s responsibilities in Reilly’s office shows that she is not simply a part-time consultant but acts as an employee of the City and the second in command of Alderman Reilly’s office.
While this employment relationship is troubling on its own, the fact that Doering and Alderman Reilly have obscured this relationship is worse.
Although Doering is intimately involved in City business and helps run Reilly’s aldermanic office, she is not paid out of City funds. Instead, Reilly has paid Doering from his political committee, “Citizens for Reilly,” as if she were a political employee.
In 2015, Doering was paid at least $110,000 directly from the political fund. [xxxii] The records for these payments indicate that she was being paid as “staff” for Alderman Reilly’s political committee. In 2015, Doering incorporated a new business, VX Consulting. [xxxiii] That led to Reilly changing his payment process, from sending her money directly to rerouting it to VX Consulting. [xxxiv]
Doering’s use of different last names also has obscured her employment with Alderman Reilly. Because of privacy laws surrounding marriage certificates, Project Six was not able to verify if Doering’s initial name change was because of a marriage or a divorce. But regardless of the reason, there appear to be many name inconsistencies that stretch over many years.
In January 2009, city records indicate, Doering notified the city of a name change, from Madeleine Doering to Madeleine Hill. [xxxv] But after that, her used name appears inconsistent.
As late as April of 2013, in a news article concerning her separation from the alderman’s office, she is cited as Madeleine Doering. While with Res Publica Group in 2014, she appears to have gone by Hill. However, in 2016, as a spokesperson for M. Fishman & Co., she was identified as Madeleine Doering. As chief of staff from 2008 until 2013, she went largely by Doering and apparently still uses that name on occasion, including as part of her email address and her LinkedIn profile [xxxvi]; however, she is currently registered as a lobbyist with the Chicago Board of Ethics as Madeleine Hill.
The Legal and Ethical Violations
The dual hats worn by Doering may violate several restrictions imposed by the Chicago Municipal Code.
By working as Reilly’s chief of staff, Doering would have direct involvement with the formulation or execution of city contracts. This power is known as contract management authority, and there is a strict ban on City employees who have contract management authority from serving on political fundraising committees—which Doering does.
Disclosures from Citizens for Reilly show that in 2015, Doering was paid more than $100,000 as “staff” for the political committee. [xxxvii] That designation, in conjunction with the significantly high salary, would seemingly and logically qualify Doering as “serving” on a political fundraising committee. [xxxviii]
Conversely, because Doering’s employment with Alderman Reilly appears to consist of direct involvement in official City business, under almost all circumstances, she should and would be classified as a City employee. The Chicago Municipal Code restricts City employees from receiving anything of value (including a monthly lobbyist fee) for offering any “advice or assistance on matters concerning the operation or business of the city” [xxxix] (i.e. lobbying).
Aside from the potential legal implications of having a registered lobbyist working so intricately with government offices, there are significant ethical concerns with Doering working for the aldermanic office while being an active lobbyist.
City work should be completed by City employees.
City employees comply with a long list of restrictions and disclosures that prevent potential conflicts of interest. City employees are strictly banned from accepting gifts from developers and companies doing business with the City. [xl] If Doering was a City employee, she would not be allowed to accept a gift from the developer, or solicit a contribution to Citizens for Reilly. But those rules do not clearly apply to Doering in her current status.
Also, having a registered lobbyist work on behalf of the City leads to major conflicts of interest. Besides the obvious financial rewards a lobbyist may receive for serving his or her clients, lobbyists owe their employers a duty to advocate for their employers’ interest. City employees also owe a duty to their employers—taxpayers—to advocate for their interests.
Doering’s dual employment as a lobbyist and as Reilly’s chief of staff means that she would have to fight and negotiate for the interests of private companies trying to receive favorable legislation from the City at the same time she should be advocating for taxpayers’ interests. An impossible feat.
Having to weigh these two duties against each other is exactly why meaningful barriers between those who lobby our government and those who work for it were created. Doering has seemingly tried to downplay her involvement in Alderman Reilly’s office. She has said that there is no problem with her dual employment as chief of staff and lobbyist.
When asked by the online newspaper, The Daily Line, about her serving as chief of staff while a lobbyist, she replied, “It’s unique, but not wrong. It’s not written, but obviously I keep a very far distance between the 42nd Ward, even the old 42nd Ward [boundaries], and other wards. That stuff I don’t do. Nothing in downtown Chicago. That’s a no brainer.” [xli]
Evidence identified by Project Six show Doering’s statement to be inaccurate. Contrary to Doering’s position, the conflicts of interest in this setup are not just theoretical.
Doering’s two lobbying clients are two of the largest real estate developers in Chicago—Wirtz Realty Corporation and M. Fishman & Co.
Since 2015, Wirtz Realty and M. Fishman & Co. have received more than a dozen pieces of legislation, including the sale of City-owned property, zoning reclassifications, privileges on the public way, and amendments to the Municipal Code. Wirtz also owns 333 North Michigan, a prominent building located in Reilly’s ward.
Reilly has voted on pieces of legislation directly related to Doering’s clients, including ones he actually sponsored. Examples of legislation involving Doering’s clients in which Alderman Reilly appears to have voted include:
- June 2015 – Grant of Privilege on the Public Way (O2015-4126). Sponsored by Alderman Reilly. [xlii] Passed through the Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, of which Reilly is a member.
- June 2015 – Loading/Tow Zone (O2015-4040). [xliii]
- September 2015 – Grant of Privilege on the Public Way (O2015-7127). Sponsored by Alderman Reilly. Passed through the Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, of which Reilly is a member. [xliv]
- October 2015 – Grant of Privilege on the Public Way (O2015-7479). Passed through the Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, of which Reilly is a member. [xlv]
- October 2015 – Grant of Privilege on the Public Way (O2015-7486). Passed through the Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, of which Reilly is a member. [xlvi]
- February 2016 – Zoning Reclassification (SO2015-8468). Passed through the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, of which Reilly is a member. [xlvii]
- February 2016 – Public Way Usage (O2016-993). Passed through the Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, of which Reilly is a member. [xlviii]
- February 2016 – Sale of City-Owned Property (O2016-739). [xlix]
- March 2016 – Privilege on the Public Way (O2016-2415). Passed through the Committee on Transportation and the Public Way, of which Reilly is a member. [l]
Chicago aldermen and their staff have a mandate to fight for and protect the interests of Chicago taxpayers and no one else. Unfortunately, too many times Chicagoans have seen those with power in City Hall violate that mandate and fight for their own interests instead of those of their constituents.
Madeleine Doering and Alderman Reilly have bucked Chicago’s ethics rules, broken rules of the Municipal Code and ignored common sense with their actions. They have taken advantage of ambiguity in the ethics code written by the City Council to skirt the law and have violated the trust given to them by Chicago taxpayers.
Far too often in Chicago, the rules and laws that are intended to enforce ethical standards on our elected officials are viewed as merely a list of technical restrictions that can be molded, navigated and undermined.
Conflicts of interest that can cost consumers or taxpayers money are not allowed to exist in the private sector and are many times prosecuted. Members of Chicago’s City Council should hold themselves to the same standards. There is no legitimate excuse for why the City should allow these actions by Reilly and Doering to continue.
If there is a loophole in the City’s ethics code, then it should be corrected and not used as an excuse to defend an obvious conflict of interest operating in one of Chicago’s most influential aldermen’s office.
Chicagoans deserve active and strong ethics oversight, but in so many instances, it has simply not happened. Without Chicago’s elected officials working to strengthen ethics rules and laws, instead of looking for ways around them, the public confidence in our government will continue to erode and taxpayers will continue to pay the price.
This investigation has been submitted to the Chicago Inspector General and the Chicago Board of Ethics.
This investigation abides by Project Six’s Guarantee of Quality Scholarship.
Because of the investigation from Project Six, Madeleine Doering has resigned from Alderman Reilly’s office, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. According to Crain’s, Doering abruptly resigned from Reilly’s office and will not be working on any business with Reilly’s office or the 42nd Ward. It is unknown yet whether she will continue to work as a lobbyist at City Hall. Although he continued to downplay the obvious conflicts of interest, Alderman Reilly explained Doering’s resignation came as a direct result of the investigation from Project Six.
[i] City of Chicago Personnel File. See Reference Packet P. 60.
[ii] City of Chicago Personnel File. See Reference Packet P. 69.
[iii] City of Chicago Personnel File. See Reference Packet P. 74.
[iv] City of Chicago Personnel File. See Reference Packet P. 77.
[vi] See Reference Packet P. 87 – 94.
[viii] June 24, 2014, email between Madeleine Doering and Andrew Mooney. See Reference Packet P.1
[x] November 26, 2014, email between Madeleine Doering and Nuntida Sirisombatwattana. See Reference Packet P. 13.
[xi] January 26, 2015, email correspondence between Madeleine Doering and Michelle Murphy.
[xiv] March 11, 2015, email between Madeleine Doering and Mitchell Feldman. See Reference Packet P. 28 – 29.
[xv] See Reference Packet P. 86.
[xvi] See Reference Packet P. 80.
[xvii] See Reference Packet P. 79.
[xx] March 14, 2016, letter from Buck Management Group. See Reference Packet P. 49 – 51.
[xxii] August 2, 2016, email from Charles Watkins to various aldermanic chiefs of staff. See Reference Packet P. 52.
[xxiii] September 21, 2016, email from Mary Ann Roti-Walz to various aldermanic chiefs of staff. See Reference Packet P. 54.
[xxiv] June 19, 2014, email between Paul Shadle and Madeleine Doering. See Reference Packet P. 5.
[xxv] January 21, 2015, email between Madeleine Doering and Joseph Gattuso. See Reference Packet P. 22.
[xxvi] January 26, 2015, email correspondence between Madeleine Doering and Michelle Murphy. See Reference Packet P. 16.
[xxvii] March 11, 2015, email between Madeleine Doering and Mitchell Feldman. See Reference Packet P. 28 – 29.
[xxviii] April 10, 2015, email between Madeleine Doering and Mitchell Feldman. See Reference Packet P. 27.
[xxix] August 2, 2016, email from Charles Watkins to various aldermanic chiefs of staff. See Reference Packet P. 52.
[xxx] September 21, 2016, email from Mary Ann Roti-Walz to various aldermanic chiefs of staff. See Reference Packet P. 54.
[xxxi] See Reference Packet P. 56 – 58.
[xxxii] See Reference Packet P. 81 – 83.
[xxxiii] See Reference Packet P. 86.
[xxxiv] See Reference Packet P. 84 – 85.
[xxxv] City of Chicago Personnel File. See Reference Packet P. 77.
[xxxvii] Campaign Disclosures. See Reference Packet P. 81 – 83.
[xxxviii] MCC 2-156-140(c).
[xxxix] MCC 2-156-142(f).
[xl] MCC 2-156-142.
[xlii] See Reference Packet P. 95.
[xliii] See Reference Packet P. 97.
[xliv] See Reference Packet P. 99.
[xlv] See Reference Packet P. 101.
[xlvi] See Reference Packet P. 103.
[xlvii] See Reference Packet P. 104.
[xlviii] See Reference Packet P. 105.
[xlix] See Reference Packet P. 107.
[l] See Reference Packet P. 111.
This investigation abides by Project Six’s Guarantee of Quality Scholarship.