With Bruce Rauner’s election in Illinois, the Republican Governor’s Association has checked this bluer-than-blue state off its Democrat tick list. It must feel good—but I’m less than sanguine.
For the better part of a year, powerful Chicago Democrats have been whispering in my ear, extolling Rauner’s virtues. I heard similar insider political “chatter” about Barack Obama from these same Democrats long before he ran for U.S. Senate. Even the left-leaning Chicago Sun-Times suddenly changed its no-endorsement policy to back Rauner — and only Rauner — without even the basic formality of a candidate questionnaire or interview.
You see, for decades, Rauner, a wealthy venture capitalist and former chairman of private equity firm GTCR, donated millions to the Democratic Party to help defeat Republican candidates. That “investment” has paid dividends.
For instance, Rauner donated $300,000 to former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell’s 2002 campaign. GTCR was, at that time, managing $110 million in pension funds for the state’s employee retirement system. After Rendell’s election, the state doubled its stake in GTCR funds to $226 million. Rauner had previously donated $40,000 to the DNC while Rendell was party chair.
According to IBTimes.com, Rauner’s firm has made millions managing state pension funds, including the $39 billion Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and the $13 billion State Board of Investment, conveniently run by gubernatorial appointees. He still has an ownership interest in fifteen GTCR entities, the report says, though he says he will put this in a blind trust.
Rauner’s firm also employed Rod Blagojevich’s political fixer Stuart Levine, now serving five and a half years in federal prison, and paid him with a $25,000 per month consulting contract. Levine once testified that it was his “job” to get work for GTCR’s CompBenefits by whatever means necessary, including paying bribes. He steered a $50 million contract to the company, paid a bribe for Chicago Public Schools pension work, and even conspired with Antonin “Tony” Rezko to get county contracts.
Rauner’s connections with Democrat political insiders run far and wide — and even “short,” as is the case may be with Chicago’s diminutive Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This takes us as far back as 2001, when GTCR, in purchasing a company from SBC Communications, tapped Rahm to help secure an FCC exemption from the Clinton White House. The deal scored GTCR a half billion dollars in six months. (An aside, Bill Daley — former White House chief of staff, son of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, and Democratic primary opponent to Governor Pat Quinn — was on the other side of the deal as president of SBC.)
A year ago, Rauner resigned as board chairman of Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism arm, right before he announced his intention to run for governor. As chairman, Rauner had been raising funds for Emanuel’s proposed Chicago-based casino.
Rauner and Rahm even share donors like Citadel hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin. Griffin donated $4.6 million to Rauner’s campaign and use of his private jet. Griffin and his ex-wife Ann Dias-Griffin have put hundreds of thousands into Emanuel’s campaign coffers as well — so much that he enjoys weekly private meetings with the mayor. Griffin previously bundled thousands for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run.
The Rauner record, then, involves crony business deals and ties to characters such as Rod Blagojevich and Rahm “Dead Fish” Emanuel. Of course, none of this stopped the RGA from pouring millions in Rauner’s campaign coffers. In fact, FreedomWorks’s Matt Kibbe was among the first to join Rauner’s exploratory committee.
Why? Because two years ago, in preparation for his run for Illinois governor, Rauner began making large donations to national Republican and conservative groups. Illinois Tea Party organizations looked past his sordid political history and his socially liberal positions and endorsed him in the GOP primary anyway, trumpeting him as Ronald Reagan and Scott Walker rolled in one. Yet Rauner has named Bill Daley — who, again, was formerly President Obama’s chief of staff — to his transition team.
Back in medieval times, some groups of Catholic bishops began to sell indulgences to the ignorant masses. It was simple: Pay a fee to the church and escape suffering in purgatory’s frying pan. It was said at the time, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
If a candidate with Rauner’s history can buy political absolution with donations, after being a major donor to the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU, then why bother with the seemingly petty exercise of living by a conservative creed?
They might be celebrating at the RGA for checking Illinois off their electoral tick list. But the rest of us might think twice before we toast the champagne to Bruce Rauner.