Illinois political aide turned lobbyist swings for the fences, and connects
After 25 years, Nancy Kimme finally left her state government office in February 2015.
But she didn’t go far.
Kimme, 55, a one-time executive assistant who rose to be the trusted, top confidante of Illinois’ top Republican elected official, registered immediately as a lobbyist.
She would no longer collect a state government paycheck — she made $149,331 annually in her last job. But that didn’t mean state government wouldn’t still pay.
At her new job, Kimme proved a quick study — perhaps the quickest in Illinois history.
A Prairie State Wire analysis of her work over the past two years shows that, among her new lobbyist peers, Kimme has been unrivaled — both in her profligacy and success rate.
Since 2015, 29 of Kimme’s clients have received 2,878 state contracts worth nearly $17 billion, in part to her efforts, according to state budget and lobbyist registration records.
They run the gamut: from software vendors and construction companies to local governments and social service providers.
Some have competing interests.
Kimme represents hospitals and Medicaid-backed health insurance providers, wrestling over scarce health care dollars.
She lobbies for businesses seeking regulatory relief and labor unions seeking more regulations.
She represents casinos pushing for more gambling, and social service providers that help Illinoisans cope with gambling addictions.
One commonality: most of Kimme’s clients have hired her to get a piece of the state budget.
And they’ve gotten it.
"The go-to lobbyist"
When insiders meet outsiders, they tread carefully.
Even Republican lobbyists greeted the January 2015 arrival in Springfield of Gov. Bruce Rauner, an independently wealthy outsider, with apprehension.
Kimme, who offered Republican bona fides and also had deep relationships with Rauner’s top staff, was there to offer assurance.
“She represented herself as the go-to lobbyist in this new administration,” a source who collaborated with Kimme on securing a state contract for a client said. “Nancy made it clear to us that she was talking with (Rauner’s) staff daily.”
But Kimme had never been shy about her personal connections to Rauner’s staff members — she would attend the wedding of former Rauner Chief of Staff Richard Goldberg — or her unofficial role as a member of Rauner’s “kitchen cabinet.”
For a governor and staff members new in town, Kimme, who served as chief of staff for Judy Baar Topinka during stints as State Treasurer and State Comptroller, had held herself out as an experienced, steady hand.
Kimme joined Rauner’s transition team, led by Rauner Chief of Staff Mike Zolnierowicz.
Kimme mentored Zolnierowicz and Goldberg — state government neophytes with scant management experience — on the requirements of his new job and the ways of Springfield.
She didn’t open a state capitol office for her new lobbying practice. But she didn’t need one.
Zolnierowicz and Goldberg allowed Kimme to work out of their Springfield offices when she was in town, sources told Prairie State Wire.
“She would hang out with their secretary, Christy Sullivan,” the source said.
Staff members leaving the administration looked her way.
One of Kimme’s three lobbying firms, Advantage Government Strategies, was formed in partnership with Sarah Clamp, Rauner’s former political director. Rauner Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Aaron Winters joined Advantage in June 2016.
Zolnierowicz would leave state government officially in the summer of 2016 to lobby, joining the Illinois Road Builders’ “Safe Roads Amendment” campaign, under the leadership of leading Chicago Democrat Campaign Strategist Eric Adelstein.
According to Illinois State Board of Elections filings, Zolnierowicz and his wife, Rauner fundraiser Barrett Kedzior Zolnierowicz, were paid $120,000 for their work. Both continued moonlighting for Rauner’s campaign.
Mike Zolnierowicz officially left Rauner earlier this summer. He now leads political operations at Xpress Professional Services, Inc., a political consulting and polling firm headed up by Greg Baise. Baise also serves as the president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association.
$16.88 billion in state contracts
Kimme told Prairie State Wire that Topinka always said “if you’re going to make a change, make a big change, and that is kind of what I ended up doing.”
“It’s been a roller coaster, obviously,” she said.
Kimme’s had more ups than downs.
Her long client list, amassed in a matter of months after hanging out her lobbying shingle, reaches every corner of economic activity in Illinois.
It also covers every political persuasion.
The Family Health Network, an insurance provider opposing Medicaid cuts, has secured $12 billion in contracts with the state of Illinois over the past three fiscal years.
Kimme serves as the group’s “exclusive lobbyist,” contracting with former House Speaker Michael Madigan staffers Tom Cullen and Michael Noonan, former Mayor Richard M. Daley aide Victor Reyes, Metro-East lobbying powerhouse and former Democrat State House Majority Leader Jim McPike and his partner, Republican Village of Rosemont Trustee Jack Dorgan.
Also battling for state Medicaid dollars, Kimme lobbies for hospital groups Advocate Health Care ($38 million), Northwestern Memorial Healthcare ($2.9 million) and Sinai Health System ($389,000) as well as the Illinois Health and Hospital Association and Illinois Public Health Association, which represent all of the state’s private and public hospitals, respectively.
Social Service providers Catholic Charities of Chicago ($249 million), Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness ($54.5 million) and the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault ($64 million) have all hired Kimme, as has fellow lobbyist Al Ronan, a former top fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Ronan represents the Casino Queen Riverboat casino and the Illinois Strip Club Owners Association. Kimme herself lobbies directly for the Illinois Casino Gaming Association and the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, which promotes gambling on horse racing.
Midwest Title Loans is a Kimme client. The Georgia-based lender helps Illinois residents borrow small amounts against their automobile equity; it is concerned with interest rate limits.
Medical marijuana makers vying to receive licenses in early 2015, just as Rauner took office, hired Kimme.
Chicago-based Kimme clients Cresco Labs and Illinois Grown Medicine, part-owned by former Blagojevich confidant and lobbyist Paul Rosenfeld, won a state license.
Kimme client Custom Strains, backed by Chicago trucking entrepreneur and strip club owner Perry Mandera, is still hoping to build a marijuana dispensary in the city’s hip Fulton Market neighborhood.
Kimme contracts with Rosenfeld’s Government Navigation Group, Inc., which lobbies for trial lawyer Jay Edelson and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), a government-funded “consumer group” that clashes with state utilities over rates and environmental policy.
She also lobbies for the nemeses of CUB, state utilities Exelon and Ameren ($20.9 million) as well as AT & T ($54.4 million in contracts).
Vendor Assistance Program LLC (VAP), backed by former Madigan staffer Brian Hynes and Patti Solis Doyle, who managed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, hired Kimme to help it get approved to loan money to state vendors struggling due to the state’s slow payment cycle.
A 2016 Sun-Times report said the state had paid VAP more than $22 million in late fees.
A former top Illinois GOP official, Kimme represents more than a few Democrat-leaning constituencies.
They include the Park Ridge-based Teamsters Joint Council 25 labor union, which vehemently opposes Rauner’s push to allow Illinois municipalities to pass “Right to Work” ordinances, dramatically lowering their public construction costs.
Its leader, John Coli, was recently indicted for conspiring to extort $100,000 from a business.
The far left advocacy non-profit Tides Center, backed by George Soros, has also retained Kimme for its advocacy work in Illinois. Called “the radical left’s best kept secret,” the group is known for its campaigns against hunting and financial support to “voter mobilization” organizations like ACORN.
$160,000 in campaign spending
Topinka died in December 2014, one month after winning election to a second term as state comptroller.
One month later, in January 2015, Kimme wrote a series of checks from Topinka's campaign account that triggered a lawsuit by Topinka’s son. He alleged she wasn’t authorized to spend the money.
The payments totaled $159,908, including $25,000 to herself, $15,000 to various hotels and restaurants in Chicago and Springfield, and $41,500 to then current or soon-to-be Rauner administration officials.
Rauner took office that same month.
Kimme paid $10,000 to Rauner Communications Director Brad Hahn, $7,500 to Rauner’s State Tourism Director Cory Jobe, $10,000 to Rauner’s Deputy Chief of Staff Philip Rodriguez, $5,000 to Rauner State Fair Assistant Janet Dobrinsky, $4,500 to Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Chair Jane Hay, $3,000 to BKZ Consulting, run by Kedzior Zolnierowicz, and $500 to Rauner Research Director Ed Murphy.
Hahn and Rodriguez have since left their Rauner administration posts.
Murphy left his state government job, but remains on the Illinois House Republican Organization payroll, according to an Illinois GOP source.
To defend her in the lawsuit, Kimme hired Michael Kasper, longtime chief counsel to Madigan, chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.
Ironically, Kimme has paid Kasper $7,405 so far in legal fees from the campaign account of Topinka, who raised much of her war chest as Illinois State GOP Chairman.
"This is what Bruce (Rauner) promised to end," said Chris Robling, a Chicago public affairs consultant and longtime reform Republican activist. "Instead, he empowered it. It betrays every tenet of reform. It plays Illinois taxpayers for fools to benefit favored insiders."
From Executive Assistant to Chief of Staff
Kimme, who lives in Chicago’s South Loop, grew up in the Metro East area near St. Louis and graduated from Collinsville High School in 1979, where she was a member of the school debate team.
She served as a Republican precinct committeeman in Madison County and worked as an aide to state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Highland), eventually running his unsuccessful campaign for re-election in 1990.
After the loss, then-Governor Jim Edgar named Stephens head of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) in 1991. He appointed Kimme as a regional coordinator.
She would work at IEMA until the summer of 1997, when then-State Treasurer Topinka hired Kimme as her executive assistant.
Kimme was promoted to be Topinka’s senior policy advisor in 1999 and was named her chief of staff in 2000.
She became so influential in the office that a state fund manager-- Smith Barney Citi Asset Management-- would hold a $1,400 birthday party for her that year. It drew the ire of then State Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago), who cited it in calling for a ban on gifts from state lobbyists.
Kimme served as spokesman for Topinka when she ran for Governor in 2006, losing to Rod Blagojevich.
$17 billion in state contracts
Companies represented by lobbyist Nancy Kimme have secured 2,878 contracts from the state totaling nearly $17 billion over the past three fiscal years.
|Client||Number of State Contracts, 2015-17||Total Contract Dollar Amount, 2015-17|
|Aunt Martha's health and Wellness||138||$54,425,391.47|
|County of DuPage||1||$57,705.96|
|Illinois Hospital Association||6||$677,965.14|
|Illinois Public Health Association||11||$724,058.94|
|Northwestern Memorial Healthcare||13||$2,892,025.00|
|Omega & Associates||48||$106,306,470.47|
|Regional Transpiration Authority||77||$3,726,432,356.51|
|RSM US LLP||73||$18,353,926.77|
|Sinai Health System||8||$388,798.56|
|Teamsters Join Council 25||1||$35,000.00|
|The Hope Institute||8||$8,636,151.00|
|Xerox Business Services. LLC & Affiliates||1,560||$215,128,477.79|
|AT&T Illinois & Affiliates||140||$54,360,940.78|
|Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago||91||$248,617,855.22|
|Examination Resources LLC||2||$171,031.75|
|EXP US Services||65||$101,500,268.58|
|Family Health Network||8||$11,942,119,363.89|
|Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault||54||$63,979,403.54|
|Rend Lake Conservancy District||4||$10,732,050.84|
|Wexford Health Solutions||9||$193,772,500.46|
Sources: Illinois Secretary of State; Illinois State Comptroller
Three years, 74 clients
Through three lobbying firms, Nancy Kimme has lobbied for 74 different companies, business associations, labor unions and other lobbying firms over the past three fiscal years. Who are they?
|360 Energy Group||2015-2016||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Advantage Government Strategies (Lobbyist)*||2017||Family Health Network|
|Advocate Health Care||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|All-Circo, Inc. (Lobbyist)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Ameren||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|American Academy of Physician Assistants||2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|American Beverage Association||2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|American Heart Association||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|AT & T Illinois||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Aunt Martha's Health & Wellness, Inc.||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Barton Management, Inc. (Nursing Home)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council||2015||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Cable TV & Communications Assn. of Illinois||2015-2016||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Camelot Global Services (Lottery)||2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Catholic Charities of Chicago||2016||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell (Lobbyist)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Conduent, Inc. (Business Processes)||2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Conlon & Dunn Public Strategies (Lobbyist)||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Consulting 4 Biz, Inc. (Lobbyist)||2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|County of DuPage||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Cresco Labs, LLC (Medical Marijuana)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Cullen & Associates (Lobbyist)||2017||Family Health Network|
|Cullinan Joliet, LLC (Real Estate Developer)||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Cullinan Properties (Real Estate Developer)||2016||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Custom Strains LLC (Medical Marijuana)||2015-2016||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Dorgan-McPike & Assoc. (Lobbyist)||2017||Family Health Network|
|EMS Midwest (Lobbyist)||2015||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Examination Resources, LLC (insurance consulting)||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Exelon||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|EXP US Services||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Family Health Network, Inc. (Medicaid)*||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Christopher A. Ganshow (Lobbyist)||2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Government Navigation Group (Lobbyist)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Illinois Casino Gaming Assn.||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Illinois Grown Medicine||2015||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Illinois Health & Hospital Association||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Illinois Public Health Institute||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Illinois Public Transportation Association||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|JAR Consulting (Lobbyist)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Andrew Kane||2017||Family Health Network|
|Kemper Corp. (Insurance)||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|M.J. Kellner Co. (Food Service)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|McGladrey LLP (Business Consulting)||2015-2016||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Memorial Health System||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Midwest Title Loans||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Mobile Care Management (Health Care)||2015||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Northwestern Memorial Healthcare||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Omega & Associates (Civil Engineering)||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|One Chance Illinois (School Choice)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Orthodontic Experts LTD||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)||2015-2016||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Rend Lake Conservancy District||2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Alfred G. Ronan, Ltd. (Lobbyist)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Roosevelt Group (Lobbyist)||2017||Family Health Network|
|Rory Group LLC (Lobbyist)||2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|RSM US LLP (Business Consulting)||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|SAS Institute, Inc.||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Bruce Simon Consulting (Lobbyist)||2017||Family Health Network|
|Sinai Health System||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Springfield Consulting Group LLC (Lobbyist)||2015||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Teamsters Joint Council #25||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Terra Engineering LTD.||2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|The Hope Institute||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Thomson Weir LLC (Lobbyist)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|TIAA (asset management)||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Tides Center||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Transunion LLC (Credit reporting)||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Vendor Assistance Program LLC (state vendor finance)||2016-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
|Wexford Health Sources (state prison health care)||2016-2017||Advantage Government Strategies|
|Xerox Business Services||2015-2017||NJ Kimme & Co.|
Source: Illinois Secretary of State