SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — You might consider the marriage of Anna Valencia and Reyahd Kazmi something of a public-private partnership.
She holds public office. He courts private companies. Together, they lobby government officials to advance the interests of his clients, according to emails, text messages, contracts, and government records obtained by Target 3 investigators.
Over the course of several years, official and personal correspondence shows clear evidence that Valencia spent a significant portion of her time in office paving the way for projects that directly benefited her husband.
Her husband omitted key information from ethics forms and funneled payments between various different entities in a manner that, until now, hid much of that information from public scrutiny.
The most notable instances occurred between late 2018 and early 2022 when Valencia, the City Clerk of Chicago, at times used text messages, and personal and government email accounts to discuss investment strategies for a smart city development project in the Illinois Medical District that involved Kazmi’s clients.
In her campaign for Secretary of State, Valencia has pledged to expand Chicago’s CityKey smart ID program statewide.
“It is not only a government ID, but it’s also a library card, a CTA transit card, a prescription discount card and a business discount card,” she said in January.
The digital identification card, which shares a nearly-identical name with MasterCard’s “City Key.” Emails show Valencia had kept in regular contact with MasterCard, which is listed as a partner with Ignite Cities.
Kazmi, a registered lobbyist and a managing director of Ignite Cities, occasionally interacted with his wife’s office via emails, though the bulk of those conversations were carried out by his business partner George Burciaga, the managing partner at Ignite Cities.
Ignite Cities inked a public-private partnership ad revenue sharing deal with the Illinois Medical District that could have netted Kazmi and Burciaga’s company somewhere in the ballpark of $15 million in advertising revenue alone, according to an estimate in a contract obtained by Target 3.
Separately, Burciaga and Suzet McKinney, the former head of the Illinois Medical District, signed a $50,000 consulting contract at the outset of the planning for the smart city deal. A document provided by the Valencia campaign shows Burciaga’s company paid the flat-rate consulting fee to Kazmi through another LLC.
“My husband and I have separate careers,” Valencia told reporters at a campaign stop in Peoria on Wednesday. “I’m very supportive his, and he is mine. He’s never lobbied my office and never will.”
Her response, which nearly matches a prepared campaign statement word-for-word, doesn’t even begin to answer the mounting questions raised by her active involvement in her husband’s lobbying career. Kazmi’s lobbying clients enjoyed access, public exposure, and political connections through Valencia’s government office, all items of value that were not always made available to the general public.
At times, Valencia’s staff urged her to use personal email to make invitations, and advised her against using her official government logo to promote the development project. She insisted on using the logo anyways.
In one case, Valencia’s government office struck an unpaid partnership with Black Dog Foods and Spins LLC, two of Kazmi’s lobbying clients. No money changed hands during the deal, but Kazmi’s clients used the partnership to boost their public profile.
In another instance, Kazmi’s business partner leaned on Valencia in her official capacity to make introductions for him as he expanded his business into New Orleans. Valencia obliged, and set up meetings for her staff and the mayor’s office in New Orleans. Burciaga won a lucrative contract there. Competitors later accused his company of rigging the smart city contracts, a complaint city officials dismissed.
A campaign aide for Valencia suggested that each item discussed in emails and text messages was purely innocent when viewed on its own, but acknowledged that when taken together, the string of events might give an impression of improper behavior or a conflict of interest.
“It could maybe give the impression that you just described, but this was over the course of a long time,” campaign spokesman Chris Moyer said on Tuesday. “It’s kind of like a house of cards.”
“There’s a presumption of improper behavior that you’re suggesting that I think doesn’t add up,” he said.
Target 3 investigators posed a more direct set of questions to the Valencia campaign that, so far, have gone unanswered.
- Will Anna Valencia, as Secretary of State, firmly enforce the lobbyist registration and disclosure laws that her husband is currently violating? (Kazmi updated his registration the following day.)
- How does Anna explain her use of official email to conduct private business?
- What is her understanding of the ethical and legal boundaries that should separate her from any real or perceived conflict of interest?
- Why was Anna lobbying city officials in New Orleans on behalf of her husband’s business partner?
- Does she not believe it’s inappropriate or unethical to use her official government email to build relationships and conduct business on behalf of her husband’s company?
- Why is Anna’s husband’s company entitled to the kind of access to her contacts in New Orleans?
- Was Anna also helping other companies link up with lucrative contract deals and opportunities in New Orleans? Or were those privileges reserved only for her husband’s company?
Some of the Valencia campaign’s initial statements fell apart under further scrutiny. At first, a campaign spokesman claimed that Kazmi’s “contract with IMD ended on September of 2019.” However, time-stamped presentation documents show Burciaga, Kazmi’s business partner, was still making detailed presentations about installing digital kiosks to the Illinois Medical District in December of 2019.
“I don’t think this is a public-private partnership,” Moyer speculated. “I think they’re advising them on best practices.”
Signed contracts obtained by Target 3 show how Kazmi was positioned to profit from that kiosk deal through IKE Smart City, another one of his lobbying clients. The same deal added sweetener incentives for the Illinois Medical District, a unit of local government that exercises zoning authority, to secure the “approvals necessary” to install more kiosk devices around other parts of the city.
Target 3 made Valencia’s campaign aware of the details that would be published in this report several days ago, in part, to give her ample time to respond. Yet, when she arrived in Peoria on Thursday and reporters asked her why she was lobbying the mayor of Chicago on a project her husband was involved with, she falsely claimed she wasn’t aware of the situation. Then, she proceeded to issue a defense for expanding “economic opportunity” in the same geographic location where the Illinois Medical District is located.
“I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but I will tell you that I have always been a supporter of making sure we’re investing in uplifting communities like the west and south side of Chicago,” Valencia said. “I’ve always shown up to make sure that our communities have opportunity, especially economic opportunity and mobility, because they’ve been disinvested for years. And so that’s something I’m gonna continue to do.”
Indeed, her husband has continued to pursue public-private partnerships with Chicago city officials, even after she launched her campaign for Secretary of State. Emails show he’s pursuing a similar ad revenue profit sharing deal with the Chicago Parks Department under Orange Barrel Media, the original name of IKE Smart City, LLC.
“This is the exact culture of corruption that needs to be rooted out from state government,” former U.S. Attorney and Republican candidate for Secretary of State John Milhiser said in a statement. “This individual is running for the office that controls lobbyist registration while simultaneously funneling government contracts to clients her spouse lobbies for. The Secretary of State’s office has historically fostered corrupt practices, dating back to Paul Powell and George Ryan, and it’s why we can’t afford to go backwards with more career politicians and machine politics.”
Timeline Shows Kazmi’s Clients Enjoyed Access And Connections In Valencia’s Office
Thursday, March 16, 2016 – Orange Barrel Media (OBMSMG LLC) registers in Ohio.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017 – Orange Barrel Media LLC registers as foreign corporation in Illinois.
Thursday, October 12, 2017 – Orange Barrel Media changes name to IKE Smart City LLC.
Thursday, January 11, 2018 – IGNITE Consulting LLC (dba IGNITE Cities) registers in Illinois.
Thursday, May 31, 2018 – Valencia’s office forms an unpaid “partnership” with Spins, LLC and Black Dog Corporation to provide “healthy food options” to teens at an event with the City Clerk’s office. The partnership provided public exposure for two companies that have paid her husband $52,000.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018 – Ignite Cities promotes Valencia’s speech at a City Tech Collaborative Event.
Thursday, July 12, 2018 – Ignite Cities’ George Burciaga shares a stage with Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia where Burciaga talks about becoming profitable.
Saturday, July 14, 2018 – Ignite Cities posted a photo of Valencia with former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praising the rollout of the CityKey.
Saturday, July 21, 2018 – Burciaga posts a picture to Twitter with Valencia, mentions Microsoft and MasterCard, companies his firm would later list as partners. After Ignite partnered with Mastercard, Mastercard’s program launched a new card “City Key” that is similar to Chicago’s CityKey, but also allows for electronic fund transfers.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 – Illinois Medical District puts out RFP for Innovation District Broadband Project.
Monday, October 15, 2018 – Burciaga and McKinney sign a $50k consulting contract between Illinois Medical District and Ignite Cities, where Kazmi works as Managing Director. The contract vaguely describes “business development services within the Illinois Medical District.” The consulting services included “The alignment of CEO’s initiatives with global partners to reframe smart district offerings that can scale, replicate, and become profitable for the Illinois Medical District.”
[Date Redacted] – Documents reviewed by Target Three investigators show Kazmi Advisors LLC signed a consulting contract with Ignite Cities for a flat monthly fee. Nothing in the document prohibited Kazmi Advisors, LLC from charging lobbying or consulting fees to additional companies involved in the same deal.
Monday, March 4, 2019 – IMD and Ignite Cities announce the launch of the country’s “first ‘smart’ medical district in a press release. The announcement includes a public statement from Kazmi.
Monday, September 30, 2019 – Reyahd Kazmi and Anna Valencia congratulate Dr. Suzet McKinney on the launch of a new Starbucks in the Illinois Medical District. A press release lists AT&T as one of the other companies to open there soon.
Monday, November 11, 2019 – Valencia emails MasterCard about “printing keys for the returning citizens.” She says, “I’m waiting on my royalties from MasterCard for stealing our name.” MasterCard’s City Key initiative is spelled almost identically as the city of Chicago’s CityKey.
Thursday, November 21, 2019 – Illinois Medical District CEO Dr. Suzet McKinney signs a contract with IKE Smart City, LLC to install digital kiosks at prime locations around the city. The contract offers IMD a higher share of revenue if the government agency assists IKE Smart City in getting the “necessary approvals” to install the devices. Public records show Kazmi is a registered lobbyist for IKE Smart City, LLC.
Wednesday, December 18, 2019 – Burciaga presents Ignite Cities’ public-private partnership plan to put 20 IKE digital kiosks up in the Illinois Medical District. IKE proposes spending $2M up front and $600k per year to maintain the kiosks. Burciaga offers IMD 20% of ad revenue from kiosks, and estimates the deal will net IMD $3 million in revenue. Burciaga’s presentation listed corporate logos from “partners” Crown Castle, Cisco, Verizon, MasterCard, AT&T, Quantela, and Microsoft, though the extent of those companies’ involvement or consent remains unknown.
Monday, January 27th, 2020 – Anna emails MasterCard officials to set up a January 28th meeting to discuss how the credit card company can “grow existing efforts from a payment perspective,” and “next steps for technical integrations.”
Thursday, May 14, 2020 – Valencia aide advises her to use personal email to send invitations for a meeting with the head of the Illinois Medical District, and recommends to avoid using the Office of City Clerk government logo. Valencia responds, “I want my logo.”
Monday, June 15, 2020 – Valencia receives email praising a “productive meeting to discuss opportunities to align efforts between the IMD and the OZ Consortium.” An investment strategy document is attached.
Sunday, July 4, 2021 – New Orleans mayor’s office awards contract to investment firm JLC Infrastructure. The mayor’s office copies Burciaga in the email.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020 – Valencia lobbies Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to review her “strategy and prospectus” for the Illinois Medical District, which had already signed a deal with her husband’s firm.
Thursday, October 1, 2020 – Valencia attends Accelerator for America advisory council Zoom call with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Shamina Singh, Founder & President, Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, was also in attendance.
Thursday, October 29, 2020 – Valencia receives an email from Accelerator for America about a Memorandum of Understanding and “investment strategy” with Obsidian Investment Partners for the Illinois Medical District project.
Monday, December 14, 2020 – Valencia rejects a meeting with Chicago Alderman Michael Scott to discuss the Illinois Medical District project because she doesn’t have the MOU yet. Scott’s wife Natashee Scott was previously Valencia’s senior advisor.
Monday, September 20, 2021 – Kazmi Advisors LLC signs lobbying contract offering “political advising” and “relationship management” to Ohio-based OB365 LLC (Orange Barrel Media LLC).
Friday, September 24, 2021 – George Burciaga connects New Orleans city officials with Anna Valencia and suggests that she help promote the city ID program which would provide “access to city services, relief funding and banking services.”
Saturday, September 25, 2021 – Valencia enlists the help of her Chief of Staff and two other government aides to join the conversation.
Monday, September 27, 2021 – Valencia aide schedules a meeting with the mayor of New Orleans’ office for the next month.
Tuesday, December 14, 2021 – City of New Orleans dismisses ‘conflict of interest’ accusations that Ignite Cities was rigging smart city contracts.
Thursday, January 21, 2021 – City of New Orleans asks Burciaga for help explaining the “scope of services” in a smart cities project.
Monday, January 24, 2022 – Kazmi lobbies the City of Chicago Parks Department on behalf of Orange Barrel Media (aka Orange Barrel Media) and offers some sort of revenue sharing deal.
Tuesday, January 25, 2022 – Chicago Park District official describes Kazmi’s pitch as “primarily a marketing opportunity for the OBM company.”
Monday, February 14, 2022 – Kazmi reaches back out to Park District officials and says he is “putting together possible locations with revenue numbers.”
Tuesday, March 15, 2022 – NBC 5 Chicago reports Valencia and Kazmi failed to disclose his income as a lobbyist.
Wednesday, March 16, 2022 – Valencia “admits to honest mistake” in omitting husband’s lobbying income in ethics forms, according to NBC 5 Chicago. Ethics complaint filed against Valencia and Kazmi for failing to disclose lobbying clients.
Friday, March 25th, 2022 – NBC 5 Chicago reports Valencia modified ethics forms to note husband’s lobbying income.
Friday, April 1, 2022 – US Ignite LLC files lawsuit against Ignite Cities alleging trademark and patent infringement.
Monday, April 4, 2022 – Target 3 investigators ask the Valencia campaign why Kazmi’s lobbyist registration documents are missing important information about his role on a state board.
On three separate occasions, Kazmi registered as a lobbyist and did not disclose his position on a state board. As a result, his name did not appear on the Secretary of State’s lists of lobbyists who hold public office. The law states lobbyists could face fines or potentially be barred as a lobbyist in Illinois for each violation.
The Secretary of State’s office does not respond to questions seeking comment about Kazmi’s incomplete registration forms.
Tuesday, April 5, 2022 – The Illinois Medical District tells Target 3 it is “no longer considering” installing the digital kiosks. A spokesman says, “Logistical challenges were encountered that made it difficult to implement the project.” He explains a snazzy promotional video that was updated to include digital kiosks “started as an imagined vision of the long-term goal.” He says it “shouldn’t have been an assumption that we were going to include every single thing in that video.”
Wednesday, April 6, 2022 – Kazmi amends his state lobbyist registration form to note that he serves on a state board on Governor Pritzker’s Youth Budget Commission.