To their credit, both Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican businessman Bruce Rauner occasionally acknowledge that the race for governor is really about how to address the state's precarious economic health. After all, everything else—education, crime, poverty, the environment, even the cost of pizza and beer—hinges on it.
But they've offered few concrete solutions for how to fix it, perhaps because they don't have any—at least none they want to campaign on. In different ways, they're both simply hoping they can patch things over until the economy is stronger.
Instead, they've spent most of the campaign ripping into each other, which you know if you've dared to turn on the TV or radio in the last couple months.
Quinn has tried to portray Rauner as an evasive, insensitive, out-of-touch version of Mitt Romney, and that's saying something. Rauner has attempted to paint Quinn as a kinder, gentler, and less effective Rod Blagojevich, which doesn't sound like a winning combination either.
It's enough to make a voter feel that we're screwed. I'm here to tell you that, well . . .
Anyway, before you make a choice, you should know at least the basic facts about each of the candidates: Bruce Rauner has made a career of buying things, including politicians. And Pat Quinn is a professional politician who specializes in survival.
A few of Bruce Rauner's favorite things (to buy)
Rauner has said repeatedly that his success in business—and the wealth he's accumulated—have given him the freedom and independence to do what needs to be done for Illinois, without owing anyone favors. As he declared to a convention of millennial leaders at UIC last month: "I can't be bought, bribed, or sold."
He's right, because as a venture capitalist and money manager, Rauner is the one who's doing the buying and selling. (Through a spokesperson, Rauner declined to be interviewed for this piece.) Here are some of the people, products, causes, and institutions that Rauner has purchased and invested in along the way.
- AP Photo/Seth Perlman
1. Convicted former governor George Ryan
"I'm not a politician—I'm a business guy," Rauner said at a campaign stop at MacArthur's restaurant on the west side last month. It's a mantra he repeats often, but the reality is that Rauner has been a political player for years. His former firm, GTCR, began managing some state pension funds in 1993, but it was awarded even more business in 2000, two years after Rauner donated $10,000 to Ryan. Ryan was the last Republican elected governor in Illinois, in 1998, but left office after one term and was convicted in 2006 of racketeering, conspiracy, and other charges.
- AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
2. Convicted former Blagojevich associate Stuart Levine
Rauner has repeatedly slammed Quinn for allowing patronage to fester on his watch, offering such quips as: "The only difference between him and Blagojevich is the hair." But the GOP candidate has his own connection to corrupt players, according to reporting by the Sun-Times and Crain's. In 1999 GTCR bought a stake in a company called CompBenefits that was paying Levine $25,000 a month to work as a consultant, making him one of its highest-paid employees. Four years later Levine was also serving on the board that oversees pension investments for most Illinois public-school teachers. In March 2003 Rauner went before the board to make a pitch to manage more pension funds, and three months later Levine and other board members voted to let GTCR oversee another $50 million, which would eventually yield millions of dollars for the firm.
Meanwhile, Levine helped CompBenefits win a contract to provide dental insurance to Chicago Public Schools employees—a feat he accomplished by paying a bribe, he later testified. That wasn't the only business he commissioned though payoffs. In 2006 Levine pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering after admitting that he had shaken down state contractors for kickbacks and campaign contributions to Blagojevich.
Rauner has repeatedly stated that he didn't know Levine, didn't know he was on the payroll of one of GTCR's companies, and didn't know he was on the pension board they contracted with.
- Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
3. The United Neighborhood Organization
The politically connected Hispanic empowerment group was a darling of political insiders for years. Former CEO Juan Rangel was one of the cochairs of Rahm Emanuel's mayoral bid, and the organization's charter school network has received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to build and run schools in Hispanic areas. Rauner got on board as well. The Rauner Family Foundation—the charity he runs with his wife, Diana—gave UNO at least $550,000 between 2010 and 2012 alone, tax records show.
Last year a Sun-Times investigation revealed that UNO was giving out taxpayer-funded contracts to companies owned by brothers of one of the organization's leaders, prompting investigations by the state, the SEC, and the IRS. The Rauner money came in handy. "When Gov. Pat Quinn temporarily cut off state funding to the charter operator last year, UNO put $285,000 of the Rauner Family Foundation's money toward paying bills the state would have covered," the Sun-Times's Dan Mihalopoulos reported earlier this year.
- AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
4. Former mayor Richard M. Daley
Rauner has blasted Quinn and Democrats in the General Assembly for the state's sorry fiscal condition. "Illinois has become the worst-run state in America," he told the millennials last month. Yet Rauner was a major supporter of Daley, whom his friend Mayor Emanuel now blames for leaving the city indebted and cash-strapped.
In February 2003, a couple of weeks before Daley was up for reelection for the fourth time, Rauner sent $50,000 to his political fund. Daley certainly didn't need the money—he was barely campaigning against three long shots and was en route to winning 78 percent of the vote.
Over the next three and a half years the Daley administration weathered a series of political scandals, culminating in federal investigations into the corrupt Hired Truck program and illegal patronage hiring. But Rauner stepped up again, sending the mayor's fund another $150,000 in December 2006. Daley scraped by the following February with a mere 70 percent of the vote.
In 2010 Daley tapped Rauner to serve on the board that oversees Navy Pier and McCormick Place, and then named him chairman of the city's convention and tourism bureau.
- Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media
5. Mayor Rahm Emanuel
In 1998, as Emanuel was preparing to leave his job as an aide to President Bill Clinton, he was put in touch with Rauner, who gave him some sound advice: try taking your political contacts into the world of investment banking. Emanuel did, and famously made around $18 million in less than three years, according to the New York Times. Emanuel owed some of his good fortune to Rauner, who in 2001 agreed to let Emanuel represent GTCR in a $500 million deal with SBC Communications. In August of that year, as Emanuel was gearing up to run for Congress representing Chicago's north side, Rauner donated $1,000 to his campaign fund.
The two remained close: Emanuel has visited two of Rauner's vacation homes in Montana and Utah, Rauner's wife served on Emanuel's education transition team after he was elected mayor, and the two men met regularly after Emanuel took office. The mayor has endorsed Quinn, and transferred $50,000 from one of his political funds into the governor's campaign coffers, but he hasn't stumped for his fellow Democrat.
- AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack; AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Bo Rader
6. The Koch brothers' effort to roll back the minimum wage
On campaign stops in black and Hispanic neighborhoods Rauner has ripped Quinn for "shredding the safety net." "The African-American community in Illinois is suffering under Pat Quinn," he said during his appearance on the west side last month.
But Rauner has also donated to the richest and most prominent group fighting to slash government funding for the poor. In 2012 his foundation gave $150,000 to Americans for Prosperity, the organization founded by industrialists Charles and David Koch. And a memo leaked earlier this year to Politico revealed that Americans for Prosperity was planning to pour $125 million into midterm elections, with an emphasis on convincing voters that "those in need" and "the weak" would best be helped by reducing the size and role of government, as well as the national minimum wage—a matter on which Rauner has struggled to take a position. He told a conservative group that he thought the minimum wage should be decreased—but after that made headlines, he reversed course and said it should be boosted.
7. Nursing homes accused of providing substandard care
As television commercials from Quinn's campaign have reminded us—and reminded us again—one of the businesses GTCR owned was a chain of nursing homes that was sued numerous times for providing inadequate care that led to deaths. A number of courts eventually determined that families of victims were entitled to judgments of more than $1 billion total—by which time GTCR was dumping the company. GTCR is now being sued in federal bankruptcy court by victims' families who accuse the firm of trying to duck liability.
Though he once served on its board, Rauner has downplayed his involvement with the nursing-home chain and suggested that it's not relevant to the campaign. "My heart goes out to the families that were impacted by deaths in nursing homes," he said at a recent campaign stop. "But this is a distraction from a failed governor."
8. Privatized probation services that prey on the poor
Though he's retired from GTCR, Rauner still has a stake in it, which means he's making money from its ownership of Judicial Correction Services. JCS doesn't operate in Illinois, but in a number of states in the south it's a leading provider of what's called private or offender-funded probation. Simply put, the company contracts with local courts to oversee people on probation for misdemeanor offenses, and then collects fees from those it's supervising—people snared in the court system for being too poor to pay the fines for low-level offenses like driving on an expired license. In a shocking number of cases, the probationers end up jailed—nearly 125,000 arrest warrants were issued in such cases in Georgia alone in 2012, according to Human Rights Watch. The ACLU calls the practice "court-sanctioned extortion."
Rauner's campaign wouldn't comment on JCS or the work it does. Spokesman Mike Schrimpf stressed that Rauner had left GTCR by the time it acquired the company and "has pledged to put all his assets in a blind trust if elected governor."
9. The Illinois Republican Party
It's now been 16 years since the Republicans have won a gubernatorial election. Rauner has attempted to step into the void and rally fellow Republicans the old-fashioned way: by giving away lots of money.
Since the beginning of 2013, he's pumped at least $853,000 into the coffers of state, county, and township Republican organizations around Illinois, not counting the $17 million he's spent on his own campaign. In the previous 15 years he'd given Republican organizations $530,000 total while also donating to the Democratic National Committee and other prominent Dems.
A few of Pat Quinn's tips for staying in the game
Everybody seems to agree on one thing: Pat Quinn has a way of hanging around. He wasn't ever supposed to be governor, and yet here he is, six years after he was sworn in following the arrest of Rod Blagojevich, running for his second full term with the backing of President Obama and the national Democratic Party, not to mention Gloria Steinem and Martin Sheen.
To his critics, Quinn is a milquetoast run-of-the-mill Democrat who's part of a corrupt system. To his supporters, well, at least he works hard. "Pat has been a good person who means well and he's trying to do everything he can to combat the issues we have," says state senator Iris Martinez.
Quinn himself claims he's still pushing for social change the way he was when he got into politics in the 1970s. "I'm running for governor of Illinois," he said in a speech last month to the same millennial leaders that Rauner addressed. "But it's not about running down the other guy—it's about advancing causes."
It's also about surviving, which sometimes does involve running down the other guy.
Here's a short list of the ways Quinn has managed to hang on to power despite inspiring few voters and being dismissed by the general populace for years.
- Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
- Barbara Shaw, former head of the NRI, answers questions from a legislative committee.
1. Throwing money at minority groups and churches
There's nothing that says you care like cash, and as with all long-serving politicians, Quinn has learned to use the power of his office to send funding to areas crucial to his election hopes.
● His most controversial effort has been the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a $55 million program that Quinn's administration trumpeted as an effort to fight violence when it was launched a few weeks before the 2010 general election. But a February 2014 report by the state auditor general found that the initiative was "hastily implemented"; missed some of the most violent parts of Chicago; awarded money on the basis of recommendations from aldermen instead of a formal bidding or evaluation process; kept poor records when it kept them at all; lacked a process to assess whether the efforts were actually having an impact on crime; and was rife with "pervasive deficiencies" in "planning, implementation, and management." Other than that, great program!
Following the report, more details have surfaced showing that NRI money went to politically connected figures and organizations, with little accountability. The U.S. attorney's offices in Springfield and Chicago have opened investigations into the program. The Cook County state's attorney's office has also issued subpoenas seeking records of the program, and state legislators are holding their own hearings.
● Not long after he took over the governor's office, Quinn—like Rauner—got into the spirit of giving to UNO, the state's largest charter school operator and most powerful Hispanic political force. UNO was awarded a $98 million grant to build three new schools on the southwest side of the city at a time when—as now—Chicago's regular public schools were strapped for funding.
Quinn eventually had a change of heart and suspended the UNO grants—but that was after a series of Sun-Times stories showed that some of the money was going to contractors led by brothers of a top UNO official, and after federal agencies announced their own investigations.
● The governor has also reallocated money from his own campaign contributors to worthy charitable groups. It's standard practice for established politicians to make donations here and there with some of the funds they've raised for reelection, and Quinn has made it a habit as well, sending checks to the Chicago Urban League, a scholarship program run by Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Black Ensemble Theater, the Westside Ministers Conference, and Saint Pius V Church in Pilsen, where Quinn attended mass and held a rally with Martin Sheen earlier this month.
The beneficence hasn't impressed everyone. "The African-American community don't need pennies at election time—we need real dollars," says the Reverend James Meeks, a former independent state senator whose congregation is one of the largest in the city. He's decided to endorse Rauner, who came up with a few pennies of his own when he announced a $1 million donation to a south-side credit union during a campaign stop over the summer.
- AP Photo/Seth Perlman
2. Detente with powerful frenemies
Quinn has lived up to his reformer roots by saying no to powerful interests on a number of occasions, such as when he vetoed legislation that would have allowed the city of Chicago to run and oversee its own casino. The governor noted that this might create some ethical problems in a city that's been home to a few instances of corruption.
But Quinn usually avoids antagonizing the Democratic big boys: state house speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Emanuel. Though it often leaves him in a weak position, the approach has its benefits. After being discounted by other politicians and the media for much of the last four years, Quinn ended up without a serious primary opponent; both state attorney general Lisa Madigan, the speaker's daughter, and William Daley, Emanuel's friend and successor as President Obama's chief of staff, opted not to run.
- Courtesy Darden Restaurants
3. Praising Olive Garden, aka aiming low
Rauner has hammered Quinn over the state of the state. Even after cuts and an increase in income taxes, the annual budget deficit is about $7 billion, and unfunded pension obligations have soared to somewhere around $100 billion. Job growth has been sluggish.
Yet for all of his business experience, Rauner has offered no solutions that actually make sense when facts are involved. He's promised to cut taxes while somehow boosting spending for education and social services, saying it will all be paid for by the sudden burst of economic growth that will happen once he's elected.
Quinn is much more experienced at the game of punting and hoping the wind is at his back in the next quarter.
He's focused on the positive. Since he became governor, the state unemployment rate has dropped from 9.2 to 6.7 percent (most of the decline has happened this year). He certainly can't be accused of promising too much; in an economic plan his administration released in June, the governor set a goal of adding just 75,000 new jobs within the next five years. That's a bit like aspiring to beat the Packers once before 2019, which is to say that it's sadly realistic.
For Quinn, every new job is worth trumpeting. At a recent campaign stop at the ultrahip West Loop headquarters of Uber—where visitors had to sign in by taking a selfie at the front door—he touted the company's plans to grow as a sign that Illinois is on its way back to economic prosperity. He also hailed the opening earlier that day of the first Olive Garden restaurant in the city limits, on the northwest side.
"More people are working today than at any time in the past six years," he said, "whether it's at the Ford plant, Uber, or up at Olive Garden—because people need to eat!"
- getty images
4. Avoiding prison
Yes, it's conventional wisdom, but it's also the truth: Staying in office is much easier when you haven't been indicted, arrested, or sent up. And despite Rauner's suggestions to the contrary, there hasn't been any indication that Quinn himself is the subject of the investigation into the NRI mess.
- AP Photo/Richard Drew
5. Emphasizing who you're not
When Quinn was first sworn in, his mission was clear: make sure everyone understood that he wasn't Rod Blagojevich. He succeeded, even if he did it by being seen as boring when he was seen at all.
A year later, logic dictated that the governor's office was there for the taking for the GOP. But then conservative state senator Bill Brady won the Republican nomination, and Quinn was happy to point out that, at the very least, he wasn't the guy who wanted to restrict abortion rights.
When Texas governor Rick Perry came to Illinois last year to try to lure away businesses, he ended up helping Quinn by reminding many voters—especially those leaning Democratic—that the political leadership here could be much worse. Quinn still loves to bring up Perry. During his stop at Uber, he claimed that job creation in Illinois had surpassed that in Texas. "Someone ought to call Rick Perry," he said. He also offered up a favorite zinger about the time he had to spend six days with Perry on a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. "It was the harshest punishment known to man."
Now Quinn is able to campaign as the candidate who's not Bruce Rauner. He and his allies have keyed in on Rauner's vast wealth, stressing that Quinn isn't the kind of guy who owns multiple homes and belongs to a $100,000-a-year wine club.
Not so long ago, public-sector unions were deeply unhappy with Quinn for signing legislation that reduces pension benefits. But after Rauner hailed Wisconsin governor Scott Walker—well-known for rolling back the benefits and organizing rights of state workers—labor unions have rallied to defeat him, even though they're not always cheering Quinn. For example, AFSCME hasn't donated to the governor since the campaign started, but by the end of September the union had pitched in more than $2 million to the Illinois Freedom PAC, which continues to attack Rauner on the airwaves. The American Federation of Teachers pitched in another $1 million to the PAC. If the unions can't get excited about who Quinn is, they can at least rally around who he isn't.
- AP Photo/File
6. Invoking the name of Cesar Chavez as often as possible
Quinn likes to tell people—especially Hispanic voters—that he once met the labor organizer and human rights activist. "So if you shake my hand, you're shaking the hand of someone who shook the hand of Cesar Chavez!" he proclaims. I myself heard it three times over the course of eight days recently. It always draws laughs while reminding people that Quinn has been at this a long, long time.
It also underscores his claim to be on the side of working people. Quinn has made raising the state's minimum wage a cornerstone of his campaign, and he encourages voters to get to the polls to support a referendum item calling for it. It's clearly a stunt to boost turnout—the ballot initiative is nonbinding, and there's no reason he and lawmakers need a vote from the public to make it happen.
"It's a social justice issue!" declared Martin Sheen as he stood next to Quinn outside of Saint Pius V. So yeah—even if you think the governor is a bore, don't forget that he knows some cool people.