Transparency Activists Sue Chicago Over Refusal To Release Amazon HQ2 Bid

Chicago, IL  – Today, the transparency organization Lucy Parson Labs filed a lawsuit against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City of Chicago over their refusal to publicly release offers made to entice Amazon to build their second corporate headquarters (‘HQ2’) in the ‘Windy City’. Amazon claims that it plans to invest up to $5 billion and employ up to 50,000 people in the area that offers it the best incentives.

The Lucy Parsons Labs had originally filed a Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA) request for all records of the proposal tendered to Amazon by Chicago’s city government. The city only sent back two pages of emails mentioning the bid and did not send them a copy of the document itself, which officials said they would refuse to release “because of the ongoing competitive process,” claiming that “the public release of the City’s proposal materials could give an advantage to another applicant.”

Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel has long drawn ire from community groups for repeatedly closing schools, mental health clinics, and neglecting public housing while pushing for a $95 million budget for a new police academy.

Longstanding budget inequalities and a long string of corruption scandals in Chicago’s government are now being posed as reasons why Chicago’s Amazon bid should not be allowed to take place under cover of darkness:

“Rahm Emanuel and the city of Chicago have a history of secretive dealings that put Chicagoans on the hook for millions and potentially billions of dollars...Furthermore, instead of taxing massive corporations we are seeing the chronic defunding of schools, mental health clinics, and other essential services. This corporate welfare cannot be allowed to proceed in secret and we intend to expose it.” – Lucy Parsons Labs Executive Director Freddy Martinez

A Chicago Reader investigation into the HQ2 bid found that “elected officials tend to overstate the public benefit of such deals” and also noted that based on the terms of the proposed deal, Amazon would essentially pocket for itself all income tax paid by its Chicago workers.

The city is expected to raise property taxes on ordinary Chicago residents to compensate for lost revenue from the $1.32 billion in tax diversion they are offering Amazon. Officials in San Antonio, Texas recently sent Amazon a public letter explaining that they were not willing to offer Amazon the tax breaks it sought, and would decline pursuing an HQ2 bid to instead invest public funds in education and housing.

A recent study by ApartmentList found that the arrival of Amazon HQ2 in any given contender city would lead to significantly higher rents for residents.

Image: ApartmentList

Apartment List co-founder and chief operating officer Chris Erickson told reporters “a median renter would pay an additional $6,600 to $10,500 in rent over ten years.”

ApartmentList research data

Amazon recently announced the 20 finalists for its HQ2 location. Several more rounds of competition remain, which Amazon will use to systematically squeeze more and more concessions from the remaining contenders.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced indicating Amazon has required officials from all 20 cities to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements. One public official responded to a journalist’s request for comment about his county’s bid by saying “you would probably need to talk with Amazon.”

Reporters at Muckrock have requested copies of each finalist city’s bid to Amazon, and so far only four contenders – BostonMiamiPhiladelphia, and Montgomery County, Maryland – have released copies of their bids, which have been significantly redacted. Washington, DC also publicly released a heavily blacked-out copy of its bid.

A redacted page from Montgomery County, Maryland’s Amazon HQ2 bid sent in response to a pubic records request. Image: Muckrock

A hearing on the matter is expected to be scheduled in Chancery Court, at which point a judge will begin to review Lucy Parsons Labs’ lawsuit and consider whether or not to order Chicago to release their Amazon HQ2 bid.

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