In the midst of his crusade against house speaker Michael Madigan, Governor Bruce Rauner recently played the property tax-assessment card.
That is, Rauner and his aides blasted Madigan for operating a law practice that takes advantage of the speaker's clout with Cook County Democrats to win lower taxes for his well-to-do downtown clients.
"It's the insiders," Rauner declared at a news conference last week. "It's the political class against the working families, home owners, and small business of the state of Illinois."
But what the governor and his aides conveniently neglected to mention is that GTCR, Rauner's old investment firm, is also one of the insiders benefiting from Madigan's clout. That's because GTCR is housed in a River North high-rise whose landlord hired Madigan's law firm to handle its property tax appeal, according to the Cook County assessor's website.
Rauner's assault on Madigan's tax-appeal practice is part of his larger campaign to prove that he, the governor, is a lone crusader valiantly battling the evil Cook County Democratic machine in the fight for "reform," which happens to be union-busting legislation.
Look for him to start airing commercials on this subject—especially downstate—very soon.
It's similar to the governor's ongoing effort to paint himself as an outsider who walked into office without any political connections—even though he once helped his pal Rahm Emanuel make a few million in the investment game and last fall recruited Bill Daley, brother of our previous mayor, to join his transition team.
In other words, Rauner's efforts to convince us he's something other than what he is will only work if the people of the great state of Illinois remain brain dead. So far so good.
Back to the tax-appeal game. The amount you pay in property taxes is determined by the value of your property times the tax rate. If the tax rate is 10 percent and your property is assessed at $100, you pay $10.
Property tax payers can try to lower their taxes by appealing their assessments to Cook County assessor Joe Berrios, the three-member Cook County Board of Review, or both.
They don't have to hire a lawyer for these appeals, but it helps.
And that's why so many powerful Cook County Democrats—including Madigan, senate president John Cullerton, and Alderman Ed Burke—have property tax-appeal practices.
GTCR is located in 300 N. LaSalle, a high-rise owned by KBS REIT II, Inc., a real estate investment fund. In 2014 it hired Madigan's firm to appeal its property tax assessment.
Now, look, I understand that all is fair in love and Illinois politics. And I too have been known to rail against Speaker Madigan's property tax practice.
Then again, I've managed to get through life so far without hiring the speaker's firm—Madigan & Getzendanner—to handle my appeals.
And by the way, landlords can pass on their tax savings to tenants in the form of lower rents, which is how companies like GTCR stand to benefit from this process.
In Rauner's defense, he no longer works at GTCR. And when he did, the landlord at 300 N. LaSalle employed a different lawyer to handle its property tax appeals. On the other hand, the governor remains an investor in GTCR.
And talk of property tax appeals got me curious to see if any of Rauner's political allies were housed in buildings whose landlords had hired Madigan's firm.
So I went back to the assessor's website and did a search, starting with Matthew Hulsizer, cofounder of Peak6 Investments. He sent $5,300 to Rauner's campaign fund and recently donated $2 million to Illinoisans for Growth and Opportunity. That's a PAC that's joined with Rauner in attacking the Democratic leadership in Springfield.
Hulsizer's investment company is located at the Board of Trade building at 141 W. Jackson, whose property tax appeals are handled by the firm of Alderman Ed Burke.
In addition to chairing the City Council's finance committee, Burke is a key Democratic slatemaker for Cook County judicial candidates. So he's no slouch when it comes to having a high ranking in that evil Democratic machine.
I also checked in on Eric Lefkofsky, a cofounder of Groupon, who donated $128,000 to Rauner's campaign fund and another $500,000 to ILGO. The folks who own the Groupon building—at 600 W. Chicago—did not hire a clout-heavy firm when appealing their tax assessment.
On the other hand, that building has been the beneficiary of more than $32 million in various tax increment financing handouts. I think we can all agree that the TIF slush fund is as diabolical as anything the evil Democratic machine has ever invented, though I can't recall Rauner uttering a critical word about it.
The Groupon building happens to be owned by Equity Commonwealth, one of Sam Zell's companies. Zell is another generous donor to Rauner's cause. In April, Zell donated $4 million to Turnaround Illinois, a Rauner-connected PAC.
His wife—Helen Zell—chipped in another $1 million to ILGO.
Zell's business empire is based in a West Loop building that has not hired Madigan to appeal its taxes.
Instead, that building's landlord has hired the firm of Thomas Tully, another Chicago Democrat. Back in the 70s Tully was the Cook County assessor, a connection that could come in handy when challenging property assessments.
After all, who would know more about how to get a break from the assessor than a former assessor?
Finally, there's the case of Kenneth Griffin, the wealthiest man in the state, who runs Citadel, a hedge fund.
Griffin has donated more than $5 million to Rauner's campaign fund. Plus, he let Rauner use his private jet in the last campaign.
Griffin's hedge fund is headquartered in the so-called Citadel building at 131 S. Dearborn. To handle its property tax appeal, the landlord of the Citadel building has hired—drum roll, please—Madigan's law firm!
It's worth remembering when Governor Rauner airs those commercials—partially funded by wealthy donors like Griffin—blasting Speaker Madigan's Cook County Democratic machine. v