Landlord Mark Fishman, left, speaks at a community meeting about an affordable housing development as Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) looks on. [Mina Bloom, Block Club Chicago]

By Mina Bloom, Block Club Chicago

An expert said the move appears to be a “blatant” example of campaign finance law exploitation.

LOGAN SQUARE — Carlos Ramirez-Rosa was sworn in last week as alderman of the 35th Ward, ushering in his second term.

It wasn’t the outcome landlord Mark Fishman was hoping for.

Fishman, one of the most well-known property investors in the gentrifying neighborhood and a longtime foe of Ramirez-Rosa’s, donated approximately $100,000 to Amanda Yu Dieterich’s campaign to unseat Ramirez-Rosa, according to a Block Club analysis of campaign contributions filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Fishman, who declined to comment for this story, made the contributions from dozens of different limited liability companies associated with the properties he owns as well as his real estate company, M. Fishman Co.

Fishman’s organizations made 107 contributions of $990 each in two bursts in January and February, all from the same address on Fullerton Avenue and from Eric Hoberman, who is executive vice president of M. Fishman Co. and the agent of most of the LLCs, according to the analysis.

Candidates must report contributions of $1,000 or more by filing a Schedule A-1 report with state officials within five business days — unless Election Day is a month or less away, when candidates have to report those contribution within two business days.

Fishman’s donations make up approximately one third of all donations made to Yu Dieterich’s campaign, which raised a total of $309,189, according to records filed with state officials.

In all, 124 of the 159 candidates for City Council spent less than $200,000 during the past year. About 80 spent less than $50,000, according to state filings analyzed by The Daily Line.

Yu Dieterich didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

In January, when asked about an individual contribution from Fishman, she told The Daily Line she saw nothing wrong with taking contributions from property developers and managers.

“I am running for alderman to make Chicago a more affordable city, a more accessible city and a more accountable city,” Yu Dieterich told The Daily Line. “That means working with stakeholders and community organizations when I’m elected to bring more affordable housing units to the ward — because you can’t have more affordable housing without building more housing.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and challenger Amanda Yu Dieterich facing off at an aldermanic forum. [Block Club Chicago]

Fishman’s donations appear to be a “blatant example” of campaign finance law exploitation, according to Alisa Kaplan, policy director for Reform for Illinois, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for transparency in government.

In Illinois, corporations are allowed to make contributions to candidates under LLCs. Many states across the country, though, don’t allow the practice because it opens up the door to dark money contributions, according to Kaplan.

“You don’t ever want one individual to have a disproportionate amount of influence over a candidate,” Kaplan said, adding, “The other reason is you don’t always know who is financially involved.”

At the federal level, campaign finance laws specifically prohibit business and corporate contributions for this exact reason.

Kaplan said Fishman’s donations raise a question about whether Illinois should reconsider allowing corporate donations.

Fishman’s donations “show the way the current law can be exploited,” Kaplan said.

“Certainly the issue of whether to bar corporate contributions has come up before — maybe it should come up again,” she added.

Ramirez-Rosa won February’s election with 59.6 percent of the vote to Yu Dieterich’s 40.4 percent. Yu Dieterich outspent Ramirez-Rosa 2 to 1.

Fishman has been politically active in the past, routinely donating to the alderman Ramirez-Rosa ousted in 2015 — Rey Colon.

Ramirez-Rosa said that Fishman’s attempt to influence the most recent election didn’t work.

“More than anything, I’m humbled and appreciative of the voters,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “Despite receiving a lot of mailers from a very well-funded campaign, they chose to elect me.

“They want an alderman that is going to be independent and put their interests first.”

Ramirez-Rosa and Fishman have a long history of being at odds. Dating back to 2015, Ramirez-Rosa painted Fishman as the mascot for gentrification in Logan Square, a label Fishman has said is undeserved.

Things came to a head in early 2019 when Ramirez-Rosa and State Rep. Will Guzzardi moved out of their shared office on Sawyer Avenue they leased from Fishman amid a rent dispute. Fishman alleged Ramirez-Rosa and Guzzardi owed more than $42,000 in back rent — a dispute stretching back to December 2015 when Fishman bought the building at 2708-2710 N. Sawyer Ave. Ramirez-Rosa said any back rent owed to Fishman is the responsibility of the state.

Fishman ultimately filed a lawsuit against Ramirez-Rosa, which is currently pending.

Ramirez-Rosa declined to comment on the status of the lawsuit.

“My legal team has filed our response and now we’re just waiting to hear what the next steps are,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

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