The Opposite of Change Congress


Last week, Sunlight hosted Larry Lessig as he unfurled the carpet for his new project, Change Congress. The Change Congress effort will ask candidates to select from a pledge whether they will refuse lobbyist and PAC money, refuse earmarks, support public financing, support full transparency in Congress, or a selection of all or some of these proposals. Today, Roll Call reports on the kind of practice that seems to highlight the institutional problems that Congress faces in dealing with the issue of money and influence in the Capitol. The problem does not rest solely with members themselves:

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.”

Hurckes biggest problem appears to be that he is likely in violation of ethics rules that disallow staffers who hold other elected office from acting in their capacity as a congressional staffer to promote and/or aid their role as an elected official. Hurckes has repeatedly taken credit for earmarks, legislation, and promoted himself as a conduit for interests that relate to his role on the Board of Trustees.

Other Board members allege that Hurckes is using his post as a way to boost his own political career. Hurckes currently operates a campaign committee to run for mayor. He has also received large contributions from big companies that have interests that do not relate to Oak Lawn, but to the federal government and the committees on which Dan Lipinski sit.

As mentioned in the Roll Call article, these revelations came out due to a row between the Hurckes and his fellow Board members over the Board’s attempt to hire a lobbyist in Washington to pursue their interests. That alone shows the depth of the problem with this staffer. His village Board could not trust him, a congressional staffer, to hear their concerns to such a degree that they felt the need to hire a lobbyist to talk to the congressman’s office. That’s all you really need to know.