A top aide to Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) has used his employment with the House to help win local races, repeatedly claiming in campaign literature and public meetings that he is responsible for securing millions in federal earmarks for the village of Oak Lawn, while also racking up thousands in campaign contributions from companies with business before Lipinski’s Congressional committees.
Lipinski’s state chief of staff, Jerry Hurckes, who also worked for the Congressman’s father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-Ill.), has served as an elected member of the Oak Lawn Board of Trustees since 1999.
His positions as a Lipinski staffer sparked a brouhaha in Oak Lawn following a March 11 board meeting during which he castigated the village manager and other board members for meeting with a Washington, D.C.-based Congressional lobbyist, accusing them of attempting “to do an end run around [him] and not deal with Jerry Hurckes.”
Ethics attorneys and government watchdog organizations said Hurckes’ case presents unique legal and ethical questions.
“I’ve been in this town for 35 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” said Jan Baran, a Congressional ethics expert with the law firm Wiley Rein.
House ethics rules bar staff who also hold elected office from using federal resources to benefit their constituents.
For years Hurckes has used his position as a top aide to both Lipinskis as a selling point in his Oak Lawn races. In a 2007 mailer sent to voters, Hurckes took credit for securing federal funding for the village, including being “responsible for helping secure over $4 million for the Village of Oak Lawn ... responsible for helping obtain the funding for the Oak Lawn Children Museum ... [and] responsible for funding for emergency light systems” for traffic signals in the village.
Neither Hurckes nor Lipinski’s staff returned calls to comment on this story.
On his official trustee bio on the village Web site, Hurckes lists as his “Primary goal as an elected official” to make “sure the residents of the 1st District voices are heard. Work hard to make sure those same residents are offered and receive the services of our Village they need. Work closely with other local, state and federal officials to make sure our community remains a safe and prosperous neighborhood.”
During the March 11 meeting of the board, Hurckes bristled when his fellow trustees argued the village needed to hire a lobbyist to better represent it in Washington, taking umbrage at the “assumption we’re not getting federal assistance,” according to a video of the meeting. The argument was first reported by the Southtown Star.
In the video, Hurckes complains that Village Manager Larry Deetjen and trustees Robert Streit and Carol Quinlan took “every opportunity to bypass the authority figure in the Chicago office” by meeting with Alcalde & Fay, a federal lobbying shop, as well as Lipinski’s D.C.-based chief of staff, Jason Tai.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.