Chicago, Illinois, November 2, 2013 – It is given: As blue states go, Illinois is bluer than blue. After all, this is the political birthplace of President Barack Obama. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel rules Chicago like Don Corleone in “The Godfather.”
But even the Godfather must be ROFL that his best bud Bruce Rauner, who is spending a mint on becoming the GOP nominee for Illinois governor, is one of the speakers at the Americans For Prosperity’s Restore Illinois Summit this weekend. Rauner is even sharing the stage with anti-Obama darling and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin and the Blaze’s Dana Loesch.
But it’s a false bill of goods. It’s not as if Rauner’s speech will come with the Democrat disclaimer at the AFP-sponsored event.
“Bruce Rauner has closer ties to top Democrats in this state and nation than many Democrats do, is pro-choice and reluctant to say where he stands on gay marriage, so you wouldn’t think he’d have much chance at winning a Republican primary for governor,” Capitol Fax’s Rich Miller said recently.
Rauner also insists he’s anti-union but the millionaire has made his fortune primarily by cutting deals with (and giving mass contributions to) Democrats. His company GTCR has made millions in fees managing public union pensions, including the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System and the Illinois State Board of Investment, two of the largest pension funds in Illinois.
But he wants Republican voters to dismiss all that; he’s the anti-union candidate now. He’s the outsider who wants change. He milks cows. Rides Harleys. Likes hunting. He will fix public union pensions, etc., etc., etc.
Ironically, Rauner’s campaign operatives have been attacking the other GOP candidates for taking union contributions. But we’re used to hypocrisy in Illinois.
That’s part of the problem.
Despite his Democrat credentials, Rauner’s supporters have been attempting to position him as the conservative in the race. It is too early to tell whether the misinformation campaign to spin Rauner’s Democrat past and relationship with Rahm (Hint: Rahm wants him to win) is working.
Thus, Rauner’s appearance at the Restore Illinois Summit with Michelle Malkin.
But Rauner’s appearance isn’t that surprising when you consider the organizers of the event, including the tax-exempt Illinois Policy Institute.
Illinois Policy Institute board member Elizabeth Christie is Rauner’s co-finance chairman with Ron Gidwitz, who has a history of criticizing the conservative wing of the Illinois GOP. Illinois Policy Institute’s 501(c)(3) status prevented Illinois Policy Institute’s John Tillman from being directly involved in Rauner’s campaign, but there are, of course, ways around that technicality.
For example, Bob Costello, a board member of the Illinois Policy Institute’s sister organization, the Illinois Opportunity Project, a 501(c)(4), is treasurer of Bruce Rauner’s new PAC to promote term limits in Illinois and funded by Rauner, former Tribune CEO Sam Zell, and businessman Howard Rich.
Costello was involved with Americans for Limited Government and the Sam Adams Alliance, two more Tillman-originated organizations.
This isn't the first time that Illinois Policy Institute's John Tillman has been questioned about his organization's ties to political campaigns and it probably won't be the last.
A second PAC called the Reform PAC is also being funded by Bruce Rauner, Jack Roeser, and Richard Uihlein (Illinois Policy Institute’s main backer and former Tillman employer).
Ballot initiatives in Illinois are, legally by design, next to impossible to mount so many have argued Rauner’s term limits ploy is a cynical one – either to win votes or circumvent campaign finance laws. But the thousands of dollars are rolling in and the Illinois Policy Institute-connected cabal is there to help manage the funds with outstretched hands.
The AFP program also lists the Franklin Center for Public Integrity, which is the conduit for Illinois Policy Institute’s journalism front, formerly Illinois Statehouse News and, journalist-in-residence, Scott Reeder. This is the guy who places all of Illinois Policy Institute's commentaries as news in newspapers around the state.
Illinois Policy Institute senior fellow and WLS radio host Dan Proft (again, Uihlein-sponsored) is also a speaker at the event, another interesting footnote.
Proft’s history in Republican circles is hardly one of reform. Proft was a former aide to former Illinois House Republican Leader Lee Daniels, who was under a federal investigation for using state employees to work in campaigns on state time and trading $1.3 million in taxpayer money for private sector jobs. Daniels was forced to resign.
Since then Proft’s career has been awash in helping liberal pro-choice Republican candidates claim victory and no-bid lucrative government consulting contracts, including contracts with the criminally-connected Jeff Pesek of Morton School District and Cicero president Larry Dominick, the new poster boy of Illinois corruption.
There is more to say on the subject of the Illinois Policy Institute and its troubling financial relationship to Bruce Rauner and will be discussed in more detail in the coming weeks. At least before the IRS comes knocking on Illinois Policy Institute’s door.
But the question for those conservatives attending Americans for Prosperity’s Restore Illinois Summit is: Is this what you really mean by reform?