Rahm Emanuel pledges hands off all dealings with Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza

February 8, 2011

As first reported here on Monday, mayoral frontrunner Rahm Emanuel has received campaign contributions from the two top executives at the controversial and monopolistic national concert giant Ticketmaster/Live Nation: $5,000 from ruthless CEO Michael Rapino and $10,000 from executive chairman Irving Azoff, the infamous “Poison Dwarf” whose nickname is thoroughly explained in Fred Dannen’s timeless music-business exposé, Hit Men.

These contributions come at a time when Ticketmaster/Live Nation is looking to secure a long-term contract for a concert venue on Northerly Island, as well as any other advantage it can grab over its independent rivals in this market. (Acting as its local attorney, another mayoral candidate, Gery Chico, nearly succeeded in helping the mega-corporation wrest the Uptown Theatre away from Jam Productions a few years ago, and Ticketmaster/Live Nation remains eager to secure a venue of that size in Chicago.)

Rahm’s brother, Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel, serves on the board of directors of Ticketmaster/Live Nation. What’s more, Ari’s agency, William Morris Endeavor, owns 50 percent of Lollapalooza, which has a tax- and competition-free deal keeping it in Grant Park through 2018. And no fewer than 15 William Morris employees have donated a total of $141,000 to Rahm’s campaign.

“Wish you’d reached out to us before you posted the first piece,” Ben LaBolt, the Emanuel campaign’s communications director, emailed on Monday afternoon when I asked if the candidate would comment on the issues raised in Monday’s story.

“Because, given his brother’s position at WME and on the board of Live Nation, Rahm would ask the City Council to appoint an outside negotiator to handle any negotiations with these companies so that there wasn’t even a question of favoritism.”

Fair enough—though, in theory, there are no negotiations directly between the mayor’s office (or the City Council) and Ticketmaster/Live Nation or William Morris Endeavor/C3 Presents/Lollapalooza. The relevant deals are between those giant companies and the Chicago Park District. The Park District was—again, in theory—not directly influenced by Mayor Daley in any of its doings, though, in fact, it always acted exactly the way Daley wanted it to act, and it’s debatable whether an outside negotiator would have removed the taint of favoritism.

In other words, there are many complicated questions raised by Monday's story, I wrote LaBolt in response, asking again to speak to the candidate to hear his answers and post them here in full.

“will stick w/ the response i just sent,” LaBolt responded via email.

I tried one more time. Here is the email I sent:

But there are a lot of other questions, Ben. So many!

Does Rahm endorse the way Ticketmaster/Live Nation does business, and disagree with the many musicians, competitors, music lovers, and other politicians from every end of the spectrum who have criticized the company?

Does Rahm believe the city is getting a fair shake from Lollapalooza, which is avoiding paying the amusement tax any other private promoter would pay for staging such a concert in Grant Park, and does he have any comment on William Morris Endeavor employees receiving subpoenas in what appears to be an ongoing (if slow-moving) investigation of the concert by Attorney General Lisa Madigan?

Are there specific plans Rahm has to right the many ways the Daley administration has wronged the Chicago music community?

 Etc., etc., etc. I am asking the questions; I am all ears to the answers; I think they deserve responses.

That is to say, Ben, I really would prefer to talk to you... and even more so, to talk to the candidate. I don't think that one sentence answers questions of any complexity that anyone might have about these donors specifically or relations with the independent (non-corporate, non-out-of-town) Chicago music community in general.

I am still waiting for LaBolt’s response—or better yet, the chance to pose these questions and more directly to Emanuel.