Billionaire Bruce Rauner’s Hostile Takeover of Illinois

All of us are free to spend our money how we wish, whether we’re rich or of modest means.

It doesn’t matter to me if Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner chooses to indulge himself with personal pleasures, however outlandish. He takes home nearly $60 million a year, mostly from capital gains taxed at lower rates than most of us pay on our regular incomes. It’s his prerogative to buy nine homes, including ranches in Montana and Wyoming, a New York penthouse, a villa in the Florida Keys. It’s fine by me if he wants to pay $100,000 to join a wine club or take vacations to Morocco.

But when those with disproportionate wealth choose to spend their money to make life more difficult for the rest of us — by removing our tools to get ahead or even stay afloat — that’s when their business becomes our business.

Gov. Rauner and a handful of fellow billionaires have poured tens of millions of dollars into gaining political power in Illinois so they can enact an agenda that reduces wages, eliminates the right of workers to organize, severely weakens workplace safety protections, and drastically reduces healthcare benefits. At the same time, they aim to disassemble the state’s critical support system for seniors, children, college students, individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable citizens.

After having spent a record $65 million to win the governor’s office in 2014, Rauner declared himself the head of the Illinois Republican Party and has almost completely co-opted the GOP caucuses of the legislature.

This year, Rauner’s campaign fund has already transferred more than $21 million to the Illinois GOP’s coffers. That’s 95% of the total raised by the party, an unprecedented development that puts Rauner in ironclad control. Seldom does any Republican legislator, whether in the House or Senate, cast a vote at odds with the governor’s direction.

Rauner and his allies also have pumped millions into his political action committee, dubbed “Turnaround Illinois”, and another entity run called Liberty Principles PAC. Rauner himself has personally put more than $11 million into his campaign fund and these other groups.

The Rauner PAC’s stated mission is to support his agenda and “oppose those who stand in the way” — yet another telling example of the governor’s “my way or the highway attitude” that has deeply polarized the Capitol and made reasonable compromise impossible.

Liberty Principles PAC was tasked during the spring primary election to attack legislative candidates who threatened the governor’s pursuits. The group launched nearly a dozen phony “newspapers” around the state, with websites and print editions mailed to voters in areas with contested legislative races. These publications, meant to deceive recipients as legitimate, independent newspapers, have adopted local-sounding names, like Will County Gazette and DuPage Policy Journal. They are loaded with propaganda promoting the governor and criticizing his adversaries, prompting the Illinois Press Association to issue a warning to readers.

Since winning the 2014 election and taking office last January, Rauner has never been honest with Illinois about what he’s really up to. Just as he falsely portrayed himself as a plaid-shirted regular guy and pragmatic problem solver during his own election campaign, he has since worked at dizzying speed to confuse the public about his true objectives.

Have you seen Rauner look a laborer, teacher or nurse in the eye and explain why they should make less money for their work? Have you witnessed him explain to a senior citizen about why she should go without supportive services? Of course not. He knows that the public, by and large, doesn’t want what he wants and he has meticulously avoided drawing attention to his true motives. He instead uses his vast fortune to overwhelm the airwaves, mailboxes and social media with messages about “pro-business reforms” — the benefits of which he has never actually been able to support with any kind of economic analysis.

Rauner and his fellow billionaires are completely divorced from the reality experienced each and every day by people working for a living. They will never need to worry about workers’ comp benefits if they are injured, about whether their kids can afford college, or making the mortgage payment on the one home they are lucky to call their own. When their parents or they themselves become elderly and frail, they need not concern themselves with whether the human services infrastructure that provides care to lower and middle-income families even exists.

So, what’s Rauner’s real agenda? Is he spending all of that money on political campaigns out of the goodness of his heart because he really wants to make life better for Illinois’ working families?

No. Governor Rauner and his billionaire buddies are making an investment they believe will help them gain even more power and grow their already considerable wealth. Reading at the beginning about all of the luxuries he enjoys, you might think the governor already has it pretty good. But, that’s not how he thinks. He wants it all — and he’s looking out for his own best interests, not yours.

How do you think he became so rich in the first place?