SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — The guitar picks that rock star Rick Nielsen distributed to lawmakers on the floor of the House and Senate this year directed them to visit a website that is linked to a lobbying firm.
Nielsen, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician from the band Cheap Trick, visited the statehouse in May to support the push for a Rockford casino. Nielsen’s wife is listed as an investor in the Hard Rock casino proposal that the city of Rockford approved.
Despite Nielsen’s personal profit motives in the Rockford casino, he never registered as a lobbyist. The Illinois Secretary of State’s office, which is charged with enforcing the lobbying rules, confirmed the Inspector General is investigating to find out why Nielsen failed to register as a lobbyist.
Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) brought Nielsen onto the Senate floor as his guest, and argues that Nielsen, his business partner, was advocating on behalf of his hometown, not lobbying for a specific legislative outcome.
However, the materials Nielsen distributed on the floor of the Senate do, in fact, have ties to a lobbying firm that was previously worked in Illinois.
According to internet registration records, the website ‘TimeForRockford.com” was set up on April 24th, mere weeks before lawmakers would cast a pivotal vote to approve the Rockford casino. The website address, which appeared on the guitar picks Mr. Nielsen distributed, has since been taken offline, but internet archives link the site to ClearAdvocacy.com, a partner of Res Publica Group which works in Illinois and California.
Guy Chipparoni, President and CEO of Res Publica Group, has long ties to Illinois politics. His firm Res Publica Group registered to lobby Illinois lawmakers from 2003 through 2014, according to records filed at the Secretary of State’s office. Chipparoni was listed as the company’s exclusive lobbyist from 2006 through 2014. His only client in recent years was the Wirtz Corporation, the beverage company owned by Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz.
Records filed in 2010 show Chipparoni, who previously served as a senior adviser for former Republican Governor Jim Edgar, lobbied state lawmakers on matters related to “racing and wagering.”
Today, Chipparoni remains involved in the Hard Rock casino project, even after the successful lobbying attempt to persuade Illinois lawmakers to approve a casino license in Rockford are over. Last week, Chipparoni fielded questions that were emailed to Ian Linnabary, a Reno Zahm attorney who represented the Hard Rock casino investors to the City of Rockford.
Chipparoni inquired about the nature of the story so he could relay the information back to Linnabary. When he learned the questions centered around Linnabary and Syverson’s public campaign to award the city’s casino certification to a group of investors that included Syverson’s business partners and campaign donors, Chipparoni responded, “That’s not news in Illinois.”
The Illinois Gaming Board is currently reviewing the Hard Rock proposal. The city of Rockford reviewed applications from two other developer groups, but ultimately agreed with Linnabary, Hard Rock’s lawyer, and Republican state Senator Dave Syverson, Nielsen’s business partner, and rejected the proposals from the competing groups.