In last year’s race for governor, Bruce Rauner campaigned as a reformer who would run the state as though it were a private business—a fitting theme for someone who became a billionaire by buying and selling companies.
But overseeing state government isn’t the same as leading a venture capital firm. Five months into his tenure, Rauner is mired in a nasty fight with Democratic legislators and has yet to even pass a budget.
And while he openly crusades for his probusiness, antiunion “turnaround” agenda, Rauner is acting as though the governor’s office were his private business and its dealings off limits to the public.
In fact, the governor and his aides have taken pains to conceal who he’s consulting about his agenda and why. More than 150 appointments were blacked out of copies of his daily meeting schedule released to us under the state Freedom of Information Act. The records cover just three and a half months, which means on average the governor held a secret meeting every day.
Even as he touted his business credentials during the campaign, Rauner blasted predecessor Pat Quinn for not telling voters how key decisions were made. “This is about transparency and accountability,” Rauner declared.
The governor’s taxpayer-funded website does include a page titled “Transparency”—though you won’t find any information about his meetings or unofficial advisers there.
Instead, we had to file a FOIA request. Three weeks later Donovan Borvan, an associate general counsel to the governor, sent us the redacted version of Rauner’s calendar from his inauguration on January 12 through the end of April.
To justify the blacked-out portions of the schedule, Borvan invoked two of the widest loopholes in the FOIA—ones that have been used to thwart reporters for years. First, he cited a section of the law that exempts “preliminary” records. Then he noted that the law allows governments to withhold documents protected by attorney-client privilege.
It’s not clear how either provision was relevant, since we didn’t ask for what people said during conversations with the governor—merely who was in on them. Rauner’s press aides didn’t respond to our follow-up questions.
In short, Rauner lawyered up. It’s hardly the open-government approach he promised when ripping the culture of “career politicians.”
Many career politicians have actually set a higher bar, including Rauner’s old friend Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In comparison to the governor, Emanuel has been a paragon of openness and transparency—at least in the first batch of calendars he sent us four years ago in response to FOIA requests.
They showed that the mayor made time in his busy schedule for meetings with investment bankers, corporate leaders, and right-of-center Republicans. Among them was Bruce Rauner. Then a private citizen, Rauner had a 30-minute meeting with Mayor Emanuel in summer 2011.
After the Reader and the Tribune ran stories about the mayor’s schedule, Emanuel became more secretive. His last few calendars left out the names of many of the people he’s huddled with, calling each of them simply a “friend” even when the meeting was held at City Hall with mayoral aides.
Rauner listed the names of a couple people he spoke with in his first days in office. For example, on January 13—the day after he was inaugurated—the governor scheduled a 15-minute call to David Weinberg, who heads the investment firm Judd Enterprises. Weinberg has donated to the campaign funds of a number of powerful politicians, including Emanuel, former mayor Richard M. Daley, former governor Rod Blagojevich, as well as Rauner, to whom he contributed a total of $22,800. Weinberg didn’t respond to a call for comment.
In many cases, Rauner also released the location of his meetings. A number were held at the executive mansion in Springfield. Others were conducted at his office in the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, his condo in Chicago, or his mansion in Winnetka.
Still, as the governor held more meetings, briefings, breakfasts, and phone conversations, he and his team started covering up names at an increasing rate. On some days, like April 14 and 16, more than half of his scheduled appointments are redacted.
It’s safe to assume the blacked-out meetings are not with journalists. Rauner listed the names of a number of reporters who interviewed him as he pushed his “turnaround” agenda.
The concealed meetings were probably not with groups of schoolchildren either. The governor’s schedule shows that he made time on April 30 to celebrate “Poem in Your Pocket Day” with students at Patton School in Arlington Heights. Actually, he didn’t meet with them in the same room, but he connected with them on Skype as they read “Casey at the Bat” and other works.
Nor is it likely that the secret meetings were with government officials, since he specifies when he’s talking with legislators such as house speaker Michael Madigan and senate president John Cullerton, even as he continues to attack them publicly.
Rauner also revealed meetings with several local Chicago Democrats, including aldermen Ed Burke and Danny Solis. “He was very casual—no tie, no jacket—and we sat on a couch and chair in his office,” Solis says. The governor asked Solis to keep the lines of communication open. “He’s very personable,” the alderman says. “But on the issues I’m going to be more with the speaker and John Cullerton.”
A few politically important social events made the governor’s schedule, such as a Saint Patrick’s Day party thrown by former mayor Richard M. Daley and his family. Though the Daleys are longtime Democrats, former White House chief of staff William Daley, Rich’s younger brother, served on Rauner’s transition team.
The governor also makes a point of calling state legislators on their birthdays. For instance, on April 27 he set aside 30 minutes—from 5 to 5:30 AM—to talk with state rep Will Guzzardi, a Democrat from Chicago.
However, as Guzzardi recalls, the call lasted less than five minutes and came a day or two after his birthday. “I don’t have anything terribly sexy to say about the call,” Guzzardi says. “He called me up in the evening and wished me happy belated birthday. It was short and sweet—a minute or a minute and a half. It was a nice gesture.”
In other words, birthdays are not yet exempt from public disclosure, even under Governor Rauner. v