What Rauner wants you to ignore in the Chicago Sun-Times scandal

By DOUG IBENDAHL • October 19, 2014

 

Ongoing revelations about Bruce Rauner’s shady business practices are having a devastating impact on the challenger’s poll numbers which are sinking faster than that barge in the Chicago River last week.

 

The truth became the first casualty as Rauner desperately tries to keep his entire campaign from going under.

 

So desperate is Rauner in fact that his campaign resorted to using a distinguished reporter’s wife as a lever to intimidate and bully that reporter into accepting Rauner’s latest untruths.

 

Two weeks ago the Chicago Sun-Times published a devastating article which includes alarming allegations that Bruce Rauner himself personally threatened a female executive and her family.

 

According to sworn testimony by another executive deposed under oath in the case, Rauner said this about that executive, Christine Kirk:

 

“I will bury her. I will make her radioactive. She will never get another job anywhere, ever. I will bankrupt her with legal fees. I don’t know if she has a family or not, but if she does, she better think twice about this.”

 

It’s easy to understand why Rauner didn’t want that Sun-Times story to see the light of day.

 

But while Rauner’s fear of that story is understandable, his conduct in response is inexcusable.

 

One of the lead Sun-Times reporters on that story was Dave McKinney. I don’t personally know Mr. McKinney at all. But I’ve read his writing for a long time and I know him by reputation. Dave McKinney is top notch, and as unbiased and professional as they come.

 

A second and related bombshell story came late Friday night, this one from Crain’s Chicago Business. That newspaper reports that Dave McKinney has hired former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to investigate whether Rauner’s campaign unlawfully attempted to interfere with McKinney’s employment at the Sun-Times in retaliation for his reporting on Rauner.

 

The fact that it was left to Crain’s to report this story instead of the Sun-Times disclosing its own dirty laundry itself is one more reason a lot of people are wondering if the Sun-Times has any credibility left.

 

Patrick Collins is now in private legal practice after serving as a lead federal prosecutor in the trial of former governor George Ryan, among others.

 

Dave McKinney doesn’t strike me as some thin-skinned shrinking violet. I don’t see him lawyering-up with the likely quite expensive Patrick Collins unless there is something serious going on here.

 

In response to the latest revelations, Rauner did what he almost always does at the first sign of trouble. He lied.

 

Incredibly his campaign is still claiming the allegations about Rauner threatening a woman and her family were “tossed out in court.”

 

This is complete hogwash, a bald-faced, 100% lie.

 

Contrary to the fairy tale Rauner keeps pushing, that lawsuit was most definitely not dismissed in total. As is extremely common in a big majority of cases, some claims were dismissed by the court – but others were not. And it’s already been correctly reported that the judge never even weighed in on the threats which Rauner now falsely claims were dismissed by the court.

 

But more importantly, the case was settled with $511,000 going to the plaintiffs! If Rauner really thinks we’re stupid enough to believe that he pays out big settlements like that in lawsuits that have been dismissed – then add that to the growing list of reasons he shouldn’t be governor. (You need not go to law school to know that no defendant pays a plaintiff anything when a case is truly dismissed. That’s just common sense. In fact it’s not uncommon for a court to require the losing plaintiff to reimburse the defendant for costs if there is a dismissal pre-trial.)

 

Having failed to prevent publication of McKinney’s story, the Rauner campaign next went after McKinney’s wife with vague conflict of interest allegations. Rauner didn’t let the absence of evidence or a coherent theory stop him.

 

The plot thickens with this post last week from the highly respected media blogger Bob Feder who wrote that Michael Ferro, Jr., chairman of the parent company which owns Sun-Times Media, has been “exerting pressure on editors regarding coverage of Rauner.” Feder presumably relied on his inside sources for that claim.

 

And to fully understand this drama we also can’t forget that Rauner had a significant ownership interest in the Sun-Times until very recently. In 2011 some of Chicago’s wealthiest individuals, including Rauner and Ferro, formed Wrapports LLC for the purpose of acquiring Sun-Times Media.

 

In 2013, in advance of his run for governor, Rauner sold his entire 10% stake in the Sun-Times parent company to his friend Ferro for a reported $5 million. That sale made Ferro the owner of two-thirds of Wrapports LLC.

 

If the Rauner campaign is so concerned about “conflicts of interest,” wouldn’t that stock sale and personal friendship be something they might want to mention?

 

And here’s another one. Ferro’s wife, Jacqueline (Jacky) was an early financial supporter of Rauner’s campaign for governor. She contributed $5,300 to the campaign on March 21, 2013, according to disclosure reports filed with the State Board of Elections.

 

The point is Rauner has ongoing close ties to the owners who control everything that happens at the Sun-Times newspaper.

 

One would hope that every political reporter in Illinois knows Rauner’s game by now. Recall during the GOP Primary when the nursing homes first became an issue, Rauner used the identical lie. He said all of that litigation in Florida had been dismissed. Rauner also used his standard “bunch of baloney” and “there’s no there there” lines which we’ve all heard countless times at this point applied to a multitude of issues.

 

While we were giving you the truth about the nursing home cases way back in January and February, Rauner played the Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and several others like a banjo at a hillbilly hoedown and as a result Rauner largely escaped serious vetting during the Primary.

 

My guess, and it’s purely a guess, is that David McKinney learned his lesson with Bruce Rauner. McKinney now knows exactly the kind of person Rauner is.

 

What we do know for certain is that shortly after Crain’s published its bombshell late Friday night, the Sun-Times published its endorsement of Bruce Rauner. The newspaper has been reminding readers for three years that it’s not in the endorsement business anymore. But they’re making an exception for Rauner this year, and the governor’s race is the only race in which they endorse.

 

The Sun-Times acknowledges it didn’t bother to sit down with Rauner and Quinn in an editorial board meeting before making the endorsement. Even the pro-Rauner Chicago Tribune went through that motion at least.

 

I’m calling it an endorsement, but if you read the thing it’s more like the Sun-Times is sexting to Bruce Rauner. It’s pretty over the top.

 

It is nothing short of shameful – not to mention desperate – for Rauner to go after a reporter’s wife knowing full well that his own relationship with the Sun-Times’ owners is where the truly material conflicts exist.

 

Reporters across America should be standing-up in support of their professional colleague Dave McKinney. Surely he isn’t the only person in the industry capable of finding a spine.

 

Then again, maybe we’ll find out the Illinois media is more feckless and corrupt than the worst Illinois politicians.

 

Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.

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