Chicago Sky Owner Fined $5,000 for Emailing the Mayor to Lobby for a Gambling License

  • Michael Alter sent the email without registering in the city as a lobbyist
  • Alter wanted formal support from the mayor to get his team a gambling license
  • He has questioned the Board of Ethics’ ruling and its interpretation of the lobbying laws
  • The board responded by saying the laws are in place to ensure transparency
Chicago skyline
Michael Alter, principal owner of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, has been fined $5,000 over an email he sent the mayor lobbying for a gambling license. [Image:]

Skipped a step

The owner of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky has received a $5,000 fine from the Chicago Board of Ethics for trying to get support from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for a gambling license without registering as a lobbyist. The details became public after the Chicago Tribune made inquiries and obtained emails through a public records request.

sent an email in December to Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman

Michael Alter, the Sky’s principal owner, sent an email in December to Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman. In this correspondence, he asked for the mayor’s aid to get a gambling license for the team. He mentioned in the email that he had already had a discussion with the mayor regarding the issue.

Details of the email correspondence

Alter began the email by stating that he was formally seeking support from the mayor for pending legislation that would give Chicago Sky the chance to get a gaming license. The email read: “As you know from our previous conversation, in the big gaming bill passed in (June) 2019, all the men’s professional teams were (given) the right to buy a license. The sky was not included.”

It would be extremely helpful if the mayor would lend her ‘vocal’ and visible support to our efforts”

Alter claimed in the email that the mayor had asked him to step aside to help make it easier to pass legislation for a Chicago casino, which Alter did. He was optimistic that the legislature would pass an amendment in January that would give the team the license. However, he was still trying to formally gain support in order to provide momentum for the amendment. He requested: “It would be extremely helpful if the mayor would lend her ‘vocal’ and visible support to our efforts by agreeing to add her name as a supporter to this amendment.”

Eshleman responded to Alter’s correspondence by informing him that she forwarded his email to the mayor who would then give him a call. To date, Alter has been unsuccessful in his attempt to obtain a gambling license.

Responding to the fine

Alter has not been registered as a city lobbyist since as far back as 2013, as per the lobbyist registry in Chicago. He has questioned the fine and is currently reviewing his available options. Alter said that the mayor has no authority over the state legislature and that he was not trying to influence her as she is an existing supporter of the team.

He questioned the ruling, saying that it would bring people “to the absurd conclusion that every business owner and CEO must register as a lobbyist to engage with their elected leaders.”

Ethics Board executive director Steve Berlin responded to Alter’s comments through a statement. He said that the board has been consistent in its application and interpretation of the relevant laws regarding this matter. Berlin mentioned how the city’s lobbying laws are in place to make sure that there is transparency and that the public is informed as to who is trying to influence government actions or decisions. He said that one just needs to register as a lobbyist and provide quarterly activity reports about their activity if they want to lobby elected officials.

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