Executive Director Reports

False premises, false promises

Henry Bayer
Executive Director

March 2014

Can billionaire Bruce Rauner’s big bucks bury the truth under an avalanche of advertising? Maybe, just maybe, not.

With less than a month until the gubernatorial primary election, Illinois voters are finally starting to get a glimpse of the real Bruce Rauner. It turns out that most of Rauner’s campaign narrative is as phony as the folksy good ole boy persona he adopted for his TV ads.

For months, Rauner’s denied press reports that he called the Chicago Schools Superintendent to get his daughter into an elite high school from which she’d been rejected. But at a debate in Springfield on February 19, Rauner changed his story, saying he’d “misspoken” when he denied making the call – and just couldn’t remember whether he had or not.

When criticized by his opponents for demonizing public employee unions, calling them “immoral” and claiming they routinely “bribe” politicians, Rauner changed course to assert that he wasn’t against public employee unions – he just didn’t want employees to be to be “forced” to belong to a union.

Oops, from one lie to another in no time flat.

In truth, employees become represented by a union only when a majority has chosen to do so. And even then, anyone choosing not to be a member has that option, instead paying only a fee for those services the union is compelled by law to provide.

So the hedge fund honcho has hedged on the facts, but continues to maintain that he is “not a politician.” No, Rauner says, he will “run state government like a business.” He will apply the principles and values from his experience in the private sector, where he made billions of dollars, to public service.

Since Rauner’s never held public office, it’s fair to make an assessment of his business record to gauge what kind of public official he might be.

Among the many companies in which Rauner had a substantial interest was Trans Healthcare (THI), which he co-founded in 1998. By 2004, the company owned more than 200 nursing homes and claimed more than $1 billion in revenue.

What Rauner’s firm never bragged about was the steep cuts in staffing and other operating costs imposed by THI that resulted in tragedy for nursing home residents. You won’t hear Rauner talk about the $1.2 billion jury award to a Florida man whose mother died after she fell 17 times in one of its nursing homes or the $200 million judgment awarded to the family of a 92-year-old woman who fell to her death in a wheelchair in another THI facility.

In each of these cases and others, Rauner has tried to avoid responsibility through a series of complex financial and legal maneuvers, including claiming his companies had no assets, despite the fact his personal wealth alone was worth billions.

This is Rauner’s so-called “business acumen”? Anybody can slash staff to make higher profits – if they’re willing to put human lives at risk. Is this the type of man we want overseeing care of senior citizens in our state?

Illinois regulates and funds nursing homes under its Medicaid program. Rauner says he’ll cut Medicaid costs. Will he do it the way he ran his business, by sacrificing residents’ safety and well-being, even their lives?

Rauner and his firm turned their attention to trucking in 2007 when they bought the Cardinal Logistics trucking company. They immediately declared that their employees were “independent contractors,” thereby absolving the company of any obligation to pay Social Security and unemployment taxes or to carry workers’ compensation insurance for their drivers.

Once again Rauner’s duplicity was caught out. It turned out that those “independent contractors” were still Cardinal employees under the law, and when they retained a lawyer, the workers won a $3.75 million settlement in a case their attorney called “one of the most blatant cases of misclassification” ever seen.

In order to squeeze every possible penny of profits out of his investment, Rauner’s firm was willing to deny employees the most basic of benefits, benefits that even a company as stingy as Walmart provides for its employees simply because the law requires it. It’s not hard to imagine the kind of devastating changes Rauner would try to impose on state employees, including outright privatization of their jobs, if he were governor.

Despite Rauner’s unethical business track record, he has the nerve to call public employee unions “corrupt” – alleging that “by their very nature” they represent “pay-to-play politics.”

In Rauner’s book it’s OK for him and his wealthy friends to pay to play all day long – whether it’s politics, pension fund investments or nursing homes. They want to be able to make the big bucks, but they don’t want working people to earn a living wage or have access to decent health care or have a pension to sustain them in retirement. The mask is slipping off Rauner as the ugly face of corruption and greed is ever more clearly exposed.

Let’s continue to do our part to make sure that the truth is told so that Bruce Rauner, who already owns nine homes, doesn’t get the keys to another.