Mitchell’s connection to lobbying firm questioned

Staff Writer

In addition to his legislative duties, state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) has been a registered lobbyist and staff member at a public affairs firm, which has led opponents to question his ethics.

Since 2011, Mitchell has served as vice president of Conlon and Dunn Public Strategies, led and co-founded by well-connected former Democratic National Committee official and labor lawyer Kevin Conlon. The firm boasts a long list of clients, ranging from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the Rainbow/PUSH coalition.

A profile of Mitchell on the firm’s website says his experience as a public servant and community organizer helps Conlon and Dunn achieve its public policy aims: “Christian Mitchell serves in an advisory role at Conlon and Dunn Public Strategies, advising clients on public relations.”

In a February interview with the Herald, Christian Mitchell said he helps the firm to attract clients and “introduce them to folks with whom I have a relationship.” But he added that he would leave the room whenever the state was discussed, “and I’m very seldom in the room in the first place.”

According to County Clerk spokesperson Courtney Greve, Cook County records show that Mitchell was first registered as a lobbyist in Jan. 2012 and his registration was renewed in Jan. 2013, but terminated a month later; during that time he did not report any lobbying activity.

Mitchell’s involvement with Conlon and Dunn has been the focus of speculation in the race for Illinois’ 26th House District. The Chicagoans United for Economic Security political action committee – bankrolled by the Chicago Teachers Union, which has endorsed Mitchell’s opponent, Jay Travis – released a press release last month, entitled “Ethical concerns, potential conflicts of interest a problem for Rep. Christian Mitchell.”

“Christian Mitchell has a clear conflict of interest,” Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis is quoted as saying in the release, which questions whether Mitchell’s work constitutes an ethical breach. “Whether Rep. Mitchell’s relationship with Conlon & Dunn also extends to other parts of the firm’s dealings, such as those made in Springfield to benefit the firm’s clientele, has yet to be determined.”

The release also links Conlon and Dunn to disgraced ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich, by quoting the Chicago Tribune, which called the firm’s co-founder, David Wilhelm, a “Blagojevich confidante.” Wilhelm no longer works for the firm. Mitchell has not been registered as a lobbyist at the city or the state level, where that would constitute a conflict of interest. Conlon and Dunn, however, is a registered lobbying entity with the State of Illinois. Their state-level clients include Cricket Communications Inc., National-Louis University and the Access Community Health Network – all also clients of theirs on the city and county level.

The Travis campaign described Mitchell’s involvement with Conlon and Dunn as a “cushy lobbying job” in a Feb. 26 press release. The Mitchell campaign went on the defensive a day earlier with a statement claiming that Mitchell was registered with Cook County as a lobbyist “out of an abundance of caution.”

This isn’t the first time Mitchell’s work at Conlon and Dunn has received scrutiny on the campaign trail. In 2012, when Democrat Kenny Johnson ran against Mitchell in the last democratic primary, he highlighted the firm’s links to the payday lending industry – which were forged when it took on The Community Financial Services Association of America as a client.

Photo: State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) speaks at West Point Missionary Baptist Church, 3566 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Sunday morning. Photo by Marc Monaghan