In April 2013, Bruce Rauner called allegations that he clouted his daughter into Payton College Prep in 2008 “stuff that doesn’t matter.”

“It’s all baloney,” Rauner told the Sun-Times. Then he added that “It may have partial truths in it.”

So it was all baloney, but dappled with non-baloney.

That’s a good description of Rauner’s campaign for governor. He’s proclaimed himself the anti-politician, while speaking only in sound bites about how he’d “bring back Illinois.” In his commercials, he’s done the tried-and-true pandering to voters’ fears of crime, and he’s advanced gimmicky proposals that poll well, like term limits, rather than explain how the state can slash its income tax and still make ends meet. He’s presented himself as just an ordinary Joe, even if he does have a penthouse on New York’s Central Park, a waterfront villa in the Florida Keys, ranches in Montana and Wyoming, a mansion in Winnetka, a penthouse and condo in Millennium Park, and various and sundry hundreds of millions.

Recently, Rauner was irked by a Sun-Times-NBC5 News story about a lawsuit that cast him in a bad light. The story was authored by Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney, NBC5 News’s Don Moseley, and Carol Marin, who works for both the Sun-Times and NBC5 News. Rauner’s campaign tried to get the paper to stop publication, arguing that McKinney had a conflict of interest: his wife is a partner in a media consulting firm, Adelstein/Liston, that’s working for Rauner’s opponent, Governor Pat Quinn.

The Sun-Times (which shares an owner with the Reader) ran the story, but McKinney was benched for several days while publisher and editor-in-chief Jim Kirk checked out the conflict-of-interest charges. McKinney is now back at work, and Kirk explained in the paper yesterday why he backs McKinney and the story. He called the Rauner campaign’s allegations “inaccurate and defamatory.” McKinney has written innumerable stories this year raising questions about and detailing missteps in Quinn’s notorious Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. As Kirk noted, “The Rauner campaign team had no problem citing our investigations into Gov. Quinn when it suited their strategy.”

Rauner’s campaign manager, Chip Englander, told Crain’s Chicago Business in an e-mail Friday that the campaign had asked the Sun-Times to disclose McKinney’s connections “in accordance with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.”

You can read Greg Hinz’s evenhanded account of the controversy, and make up your own mind about it.

My colleague Mick Dumke posted a story yesterday about two more lawsuits that also cast Rauner in a negative light. Perhaps the Rauner campaign would have blamed the story on Dumke’s wife, but Dumke is single.

Meantime, since Rauner wants to talk about ethics, let’s revisit that baloney that doesn’t matter about Payton College Prep.

  • Chris Sweda/Sun-Times
  • The elite school Rauner’s daughter got into with a little help from her dad

Because Rauner has a home in Winnetka, his daughter could have attended New Trier High, one of the nation’s most prestigious schools. But she wanted to go to Payton, an elite selective-enrollment high school on the near north side. Fortunately for her, the family also had those Millennium Park properties, which meant she could attend a Chicago Public School. Unfortunately for her, Payton has many more applicants than seats, and her grades and test scores weren’t quite good enough to get her in.

At that point, Rauner faced an ethical dilemma. On the one hand, he had a lot of clout, and others who had it were using it to get their kids into Chicago’s selective enrollment schools. On the other hand, he believes education is a “matter of fairness and social justice,” as he now says on his website—and exploiting his advantage wouldn’t be the fair and socially just thing. But, then, if he didn’t act, his daughter would have been doomed to New Trier. And how would she learn the lesson that clout is only valuable when it’s used?

So Rauner called the office of Arne Duncan, now U.S. Education Secretary, then CPS CEO. And, voila! His daughter got into Payton. It’s not clear whether she got in via “principal’s discretion” or some other process—Rauner has given conflicting accounts, and talks about it as seldom as possible, since it’s “stuff that doesn’t matter.”

A year and a half after his daughter was admitted, Rauner gave Payton College Prep $250,000.

Under the Society of Political Candidates Code of Ethics, if there was one, Rauner would have to disclose on his website any string-pulling he did for his daughter.

But I understand his logic in pressuring the Sun-Times. All Rauner wants is for everyone else to be ethical.