SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois AFL-CIO has taken an unusual tack to shutting down self-funding in the gubernatorial campaign of multimillionaire Bruce Rauner, asking a state inspector to declare that the Republican's contributions violate state law.
The complaint to the state's executive inspector general is an escalation of the battle between businessman Rauner, who has pledged to stare down "government union bosses," and organized labor, which aims to keep him from the GOP nomination.
The 850,000-member labor union is asking for an investigation into Rauner's $5 million in contributions to his own campaign. The complaint says Rauner violated the state procurement code because he was chairman of a private equity firm that has invested tens of millions of dollars for several state pension systems, including the Teachers' Retirement System.
The law says that anyone doing more than $50,000 in work for the state cannot contribute to the campaign of the officeholder responsible for the contract – or candidates for that office. That thinking puts Rauner in the unlikely position of being the contractor and the candidate, prohibiting him from donating to his own campaign.
A Rauner campaign spokesman said the effort by allies of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is "beyond the point of desperation."
The request for an "emergency investigation" – the primary election is March 18 – calls for "immediate action to require Bruce Rauner to cease all improper contributions that are adversely affecting the current political campaign in which he is involved and for the disgorgement of all improper contributions."
"We already know that someone who makes $25,000 an hour and wants to lower the minimum wage isn't like the rest of us, but that doesn't mean Rauner gets to play by a different set of rules," AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan said.
In his campaign for governor, Rauner has changed his stance on the minimum wage, initially saying he'd want to cut the state rate and then later saying he'd support raising it under certain circumstances.
Until October 2012, Rauner was chairman of GTCR, a private equity firm with millions of dollars of investments with state retirement funds. The complaint specifically mentions the one for public schoolteachers.
The law bars contractor contributions for two years even after they've left the company in question. Rauner's disclosure statements show he still has a partnership interest in GTCR, so contributing to his campaign is also a conflict of interest, Carrigan said.
Through a spokesman, Rauner dismissed the argument.
"It's clear that Pat Quinn's allies are now beyond the point of desperation," spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in a prepared statement. "The complaint fails on its face and is conceptually ridiculous. Bruce first contributed to his exploratory committee nearly a year ago, and the government union bosses, finally filing this now, only confirms that they know Bruce will defeat Quinn and shake up the status quo in Springfield."
A spokesman for the inspector general did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The office typically does not confirm or deny investigations.
The AFL-CIO has not been involved, as other state unions are, in political action committees that have created ads that attack Rauner. But the union, which announced in January its plans to "do everything possible" to keep Rauner from the nomination, have undertaken an education campaign among its more than 100,000 Republican members, union spokesman Bill Looby said. He did not immediately know how much would be spent for the effort, but noted it's considered member-to-member campaigning that does not require public disclosure.
Contact John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor