Rauner hits Pritzker with Blagojevich wiretap ad, Pritzker responds with veterans’ deaths spot


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Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday unveiled a TV attack ad featuring audio of Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker talking to disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich about a possible job, prompting Pritzker to go up with a commercial hitting Rauner for deaths and illnesses at a downstate veterans home.

The new advertising onslaught is unfolding well before either candidate has faced voters in the March 20 primary, foretelling how negative and expensive a potential general election contest would be between two wealthy men willing to use their money to promote their political careers. Rauner is a former private equity investor, while Pritzker is a billionaire entrepreneur and investor who has vowed to self-fund his campaign. Both already have spent millions.

Rauner’s decision to focus on Pritzker’s ties to the now-imprisoned Blagojevich reflected what one GOP campaign aide said privately was a need to point out the Democrat’s “insider dealings” amid the belief that the heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune will win the primary election. The ad also could drive up negative voter perceptions of Pritzker, perhaps providing a boost to other Democratic governor hopefuls including businessman Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss.


Rauner’s Pritzker-Blagojevich spot comes more than seven months after the Chicago Tribune first reported that federal law enforcement officials had captured the talks as they investigated Blagojevich and his administration for public corruption in fall 2008. The Tribune obtained the recordings, as well as transcripts of calls to others.

The new one-minute attack ad features no narrator and uses sepia-toned photographs of Blagojevich and Pritzker with ominous-sounding music beneath their conversation, which authorities recorded on Nov. 6, 2008. Blagojevich opened the possibility of appointing Pritzker as attorney general if he selected Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan as U.S. senator to replace then-incoming President Barack Obama. Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan, the attorney general’s father, had been feuding for years.

“OK, so what if, and I’m telling ya’ this could happen … because I know how Madigan is. He says, ‘I’ll give you health care. I’ll give you a capital bill, OK?’ I’ll balance the uh, we’ll work with you to balance the budget the way you want to do it and I’ll raise taxes on people. And, uh, you make Lisa the senator, OK?” Blagojevich says as Pritzker responds, “Uh-huh.”

After Blagojevich calls such a choice a “moral dilemma,” Pritzker says, “You should do it. I’d take that in a heartbeat.”

Blagojevich goes on to note that if Lisa Madigan gets the U.S. Senate appointment, “There’s an AG that I appoint.”

“Oh, that’s interesting,” says Pritzker, a lawyer.

Blagojevich urges Pritzker, “I mean, don’t rule that one out.”


“OK,” Pritzker responds as Blagojevich responds, “I mean, I’m not promising. I’m just saying these are all scenarios.”

The ad then shows the tagline: “J.B. Pritzker. A corrupt deal for Illinois.”

At the time of the conversation, it was widely known that Blagojevich was the target of an intensifying, yearslong federal investigation.

Earlier in the call, Blagojevich and Pritzker discussed various scenarios about who the governor should appoint to the Senate to replace Obama, who’d been elected president two days earlier. During the conversation, Pritzker has pitched the idea of Blagojevich appointing him state treasurer if that office should become open. Pritzker told Blagojevich, “My interest in holding public office is, you know, always large.”

The audio used in the Rauner ad picks up at the point where Blagojevich weighs the pros and cons of appointing Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat despite his feud with her father.

The Rauner ad leaves off the end of the phone call, in which Pritzker said he’s got to head into an event and tells Blagojevich he doesn’t “want to seem like I’m out here looking for a job.” He then reminds Blagojevich about the office he wants. “The treasurer thing seems totally logical to me and not harmful to you,” Pritzker says.

Pritzker, who declined to be interviewed for the May 31 Tribune story, briefly took reporters’ questions at a political event shortly after the story published online.

“Look, there was nothing inappropriate about my conversation with the governor,” Pritzker said back then. “It should be unsurprising to people that after 25 years of doing public service in a variety of ways that when an opportunity might have arisen for me to do public service that I would be willing to do that. And that was what the conversation was all about.”

Ultimately, Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the Obama Senate vacancy. Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges little more than a month after the conversation with Pritzker.

On Wednesday, Pritzker spokesman Galia Slayen responded to Rauner’s ad by noting that “J.B. was never accused of wrongdoing.”

“Putting selectively edited, 9-year-old tapes on air won’t change that,” she said.

As Rauner’s ad was being released, Pritzker’s campaign offered two new TV ads — one in which Pritzker accuses the Republican governor of unleashing his attacks to “play politics in the Democratic primary (rather) than to defend his own record.” A second ad quotes newscasts from around the state questioning the Rauner administration’s handling of incidents of Legionnaire’s disease at the Quincy Veterans Home, where 13 people have died since a 2015 outbreak.

“It’s no surprise Bruce Rauner is already on TV attacking me. He’d rather play politics in the Democratic primary than to defend his own record,” Pritzker says into the camera, not specifying what’s in Rauner’s latest ad.

“I’m running for governor to take Illinois down a different path,” Pritzker says, noting support for a graduated income tax and a large-scale health care plan. “Bruce Rauner can attack me all he wants, but I’ll keep fighting to change Illinois.”

The second ad on the Quincy facility’s problems with Legionnaire’s largely uses narration from newscasts throughout the state. The spot also features U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who has endorsed Pritzker, saying in a newscast, “I think our veterans deserve nothing but the absolute best and they’re not getting that at this time.”

“Bruce Rauner: Our veterans deserve better,” reads a graphic that closes the ad.

Rauner left the veterans home Wednesday after a weeklong stay, pledging to start a task force to look at fixes for the water problems causing the Legionnaire’s.


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