Executive Director Reports

Bruce Rauner's big lie

Henry Bayer
Executive Director

January-February 2014

When the Illinois legislature audaciously looted the retirement savings of the state’s public employees, many lawmakers dissented because the bill was clearly unconstitutional and immoral.

But a smaller group voted “no” because they felt the cuts weren’t deep enough. They were taking their cues from the leading Republican candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner, who wants to eliminate defined benefit pension plans and force public employees into 401(k)-style plans, left to the vagaries of the stock market.

How did someone who was a political unknown until recently gain such influence? It’s easy if you’ve got millions of your own money to spend promoting yourself. Rauner has been “introducing” himself to voters in phony, folksy TV ads seeking to disguise his status as a venture capitalist who made a good part of his immense fortune feeding off of those very public pension funds he purports to despise.

Rauner says he’s an “outsider” to public service, but he’s spent decades soliciting public pension fund dollars for his hedge funds to invest for a handsome fee. A few years ago, he received millions in Pennsylvania pension dollars to invest – after a $300,000 campaign contribution to that state’s Democratic governor.

Here in Illinois, a company owned by Rauner paid a member of the Teachers’ Retirement System Board more than $25,000 a month. Not coincidentally, his firm was selected to handle TRS pension dollars. The TRS member, Stuart Levine, is now doing time in federal prison for public malfeasance.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his sordid record of “paying to play,” Rauner is attempting to pedal a large load of hooey about “union bosses” being in “control” in Springfield.

One only has to look at the passage of pension-slashing SB 1, which legislators enacted in violation of the state’s constitution and over the vocal opposition of thousands of union members, to know who’s really calling the shots in Springfield. AFSCME and other public sector unions are important lobbying forces at the state capitol, but our influence (and financial contributions) can’t begin to compare to that of the corporate elite Bruce Rauner represents.

Of course, Rauner’s real target isn’t a handful of union leaders, but the hundreds of thousands of union members whose pay, pensions and workplace rights he wants to diminish.

He’s out to wipe out unions in the public sector because in his view they’ve raised the salaries of public workers too high. It’s more than ironic that a man who reported $52 million in income in 2012 claims employees who earn their relatively modest salaries through hard work are overly compensated.

His claim that AFSCME’s contracts with the state are the result of campaign contributions to the governors with whom we negotiated is a flat-out falsehood. Yes, we’ve negotiated contracts with the past five governors of Illinois that improved the standard of living of union members. But in most of those cases the union did not even endorse them in their runs for office. And, even when we did, the agreements often were only won after intensive member mobilizations all across the state.

In Rauner’s world, the truth doesn’t matter – but money most certainly does. His campaign is about whether the big money can sell the big lie.

The regular guy Rauner plays on TV couldn’t be more divorced from who he really is. He doesn’t want voters to know he owns nine homes and has claimed tax breaks on three, even though he’s entitled to just one such exemption. He doesn’t want them to know that while he lives in a fancy suburb, he falsely claimed residency in the City of Chicago, placed a call to a top schools official, and got his daughter ‘clouted in’ to a highly-regarded public high school.

Rubbing elbows and scratching backs is what Rauner has done to amass his fortune. He’s done it not only with Republicans, but also with Democrats like Rahm Emanuel, who benefit from Rauner’s largesse and are quick to return the favor.

Bruce Rauner wants to be governor to wipe out labor unions and destroy what little remains of the middle class in our state – all while steering more money to him and his friends. He’s trying to prey on the resentments of those who’ve already lost jobs and income – turning their anger away from the Wall Street wolves who robbed them and onto struggling public employees.

We can’t let Rauner make us the punching bag of this election season. There’s little more than 60 days left until the primary, and we are not about to spend them hanging from the ceiling in the gym. Let’s step into the ring and start fighting back before it’s too late.