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Miller: Big money pours into Rauner campaign, thanks to rich pals

Updated: January 16, 2014 6:09AM



By now, it should be self-evident that Bruce Rauner has locked up pretty much all the big money in the Republican primary election for governor. The Dec. 3 pension reform vote in the Legislature provides even more evidence.

Rauner has built an impenetrable fortress of high-dollar campaign contributors. Ron Gidwitz, long known in GOP circles for being the gateway to big-time cash from the wealthy, has fully joined in with Rauner, as has the richest man in Illinois, Ken Griffin.

Gidwitz was with state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, but Gidwitz and Rauner have sucked up so many dollars — including more than $250,000 from Griffin, a member of Rauner’s campaign fundraising committee, and lots more from Griffin’s friends — that Dillard hasn’t been able to raise any cash from rich people he has known for years, even decades.

Dillard’s financial predicament has become so desperate that he voted against the pension reform bill in the obvious hope that he can now raise some dough from public employee unions. Dillard’s vote is more bizarre when you realize that he voted against a union-negotiated pension bill in May and twice voted in favor of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension reform bill in May and June.

But he really had no choice in the Dec. 3 vote. It was sink or swim time. Whether a gubernatorial candidate can win the March 18 Republican primary with union backing remains to be seen, but it appears highly unlikely from this vantage point.

If Dillard does win any public worker union endorsements, Rauner can then whack him with a “pay to play” charge and beat him over the head for taking “big-government, union-boss” dollars.

The same goes for state Treasurer Dan Rutherford. He’s not facing a gubernatorial campaign cash crisis like Dillard, but he hasn’t been able to raise the big bucks to compete with Rauner, who’s reporting new six-figure contributions almost every day.

Rutherford said not long ago that a pension reform bill should be passed so its constitutionality could be determined in the courts. But he sided with the unions Dec. 3 and opposed the pension bill, saying he believed it to be unconstitutional.

For three solid years, state Rep. Tom Cross constantly insisted to his caucus that pension reform absolutely had to be passed, even though the majority of his members sided with the unions. That split eventually became so bitterly intense that Cross could no longer effectively continue as House Republican Leader.

Yet, when push came to shove, Cross voted “no” on the reform bill. Huh?

Well, he could’ve gone for the easy newspaper endorsements and the “regular” Statehouse money. But Cross knows that his best fundraising year as House GOP Leader came in 2010 — when Griffin and his independently wealthy wife, Ann, contributed huge dollars to his cause and helped him raise even more money from their super-rich friends.

A “yes” vote could’ve meant no Griffin cash for Cross (Griffin penned a recent Chicago Tribune op-ed article slamming the pension bill with Rauner campaign talking points and his wife reportedly made several phone calls to House Republicans prior to the vote). So, Cross went with the money.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has been courting the Griffins and their bank accounts for several years. One of Kirk’s top political guys is now working for Rauner. So, in retrospect, Kirk’s aggressive statement opposing the pension bill should’ve been no surprise.

But it sure as heck freaked out a lot of Republican legislators, particularly in the House. Twenty-two House Republicans voted for Madigan’s pension bill in May, but just 15 voted Dec. 3 for a similar bill that had been negotiated by their newly elected leader, Rep. Jim Durkin, of Western Springs. Kirk’s opposition was crucial to that precipitous decline.

Madigan, D-Chicago, claimed that Rauner had made a “political mistake” when he tried and failed to “blow up” the process and kill the pension bill. Governmentally, Rauner’s behavior was appalling. It showed that he would be a needlessly confrontational and even irresponsible governor.

But this was no political loss. Instead, it officially heralded a new era in state GOP politics.

Ken Griffin told the Tribune last year that the ultra-wealthy “actually have an insufficient influence” on Illinois politics. Now, the Griffins, Rauner and the rest of the ultra-wealthy are making a big play to take over the state Republican Party and the governor’s mansion. Everybody else had better pay attention.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.



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