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Rich-guy rumble: Rauner, Pritzker tussle over trusts, transparency

Chicago Sun Times

Wednesday, December 6, 2017  |  Article  |  Tina Sfondeles

Candidates--Statewide (12)

Gov. Bruce Rauner went for the jugular of Democratic rival J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday, suggesting that the only way the billionaire could have reported just $16 million in income last year was if he was a lousy investor or a sneaky tax dodger — or both.

“Inherits $3 billion, and he’s still got $3 billion years later, mostly?” Rauner said of Pritzker.

“But he only reports $16 million of income? How do you do that? I mean, you, you have to be one of the worst investors on the planet to only generate $16 million of income on $3 billion of assets.”

“How do you do that? By hiding from taxes and tax avoidance. That’s how you do that.”

A day after declaring he wasn’t “in charge” and blaming House Speaker Michael Madigan for “rigging” the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Rauner doubled down on those remarks, while also alleging Pritzker is “hiding from taxes” with off-shore trusts.

For months, the governor has been coy about talking about his re-election campaign or his competitors. But with a Republican primary challenger surfacing and a costly primary battle ahead, Rauner went full forward with an attack on Pritzker’s finances.

The Rauner campaign released a statement on Tuesday morning, accusing the Pritzker family of a “history of off-shore holdings and avoiding taxes.” At issue is the lack of information about Pritzker’s trusts.

In response, the Pritzker campaign eventually denied the tax evasion allegations after initially issuing a one-sentence statement:

“We’re not going to get in the way of the Bruce Rauner implosion tour,” campaign manager Anne Caprara said.

The campaign later said the trusts involve “other people, businesses, etc and it would be improper to reveal this info because he is running for governor.”

Asked whether he has any off-shore accounts, the governor said he has investments he doesn’t control. Rauner also said he’s “worked hard” for his assets: “I’ve made all my money. I didn’t inherit money.” He also denied having off-shore accounts: “Not at all. I do not [have off-shore accounts],” Rauner said.

“The candidate, Pritzker, inherited over $3 billion, and he and his family has chosen, chosen, on a massive scale to hide hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of their money off-shore in accounts outside of the United States,” Rauner said. “That is fundamentally wrong. That is going to come out, and it is outrageous.”

In October, Pritzker was dubbed the fifth-richest person in Illinois by Forbes with an estimated fortune of $3.4 billion. Rauner did not make the list, which had a cutoff this year of $2 billion. But Pritzker’s deeper pockets did not translate into bigger earnings. The Democrat reported income last year that was just a fraction of what Rauner reported.

Rauner, a former venture capitalist, and his wife placed their investments in a “blind trust” days before he took office in 2015 —  a pledge Rauner made during his campaign to avoid conflicts of interest from his extensive financial holdings.

Under the “blind trust,” Rauner and his wife, Diana, granted Roundtable Investment Partners exclusive power of attorney, giving the company control of every investment, including the buying and selling of assets.

Rauner’s “blind trust” is not a traditional one, however. A Rauner spokesman in 2015 said it was not “feasible” to establish a blind trust and still abide by an Illinois ethics law that requires an annual list of investments doing business with the state.

Pritzker’s latest tax return shows $14.95 million in adjusted gross income for 2016 — having paid a federal tax rate of 27.7 percent. He reported $9.9 million in income jointly in 2015 and $3.13 million jointly in 2014. The bulk of his income — about $13.1 million — came from “rental real estate, royalties, partnerships, S corporations, trusts, etc,” according to the tax filing released by the Pritzker campaign. The campaign, however, did not release his schedules, which would have provided more details.

Rauner does not release the schedules that he files with his tax returns, either.

After their initial response, the Pritzker campaign released a full statement, calling Rauner’s tax evasion accusations false.

“Bruce Rauner’s accusations are false and he is lying about JB Pritzker,” Caprara said, adding Pritzker released his personal tax returns, total taxes paid by trusts and charitable contributions. The campaign said the trusts benefitting Pritzker have paid a combined $25 million in state taxes and $136 million in federal taxes over the last year.

Regarding off-shore accounts, the Pritzker campaign said “there are some trusts that were established by JB’s family a couple generations ago.”

“JB did not set them up, has never received a personal disbursement from them, and he has directed that any disbursements from these trusts be given to charity,” Caprara said.

At a news conference called to announce a new statewide helpline to help those impacted by opioid addiction, Rauner declined to take back his “not in charge” statement from the day before.

“No, not really. Everyone in this state knows what I’m talking about,” Rauner said, adding that Madigan controls both lobbyists and judges through patronage.

So why is he seeking re-election if Madigan is still there? “I believe he will we be going somewhere, into retirement,” Rauner said.

No Republican has filed to run in Madigan’s House district.

Rauner on Monday had also slammed Madigan for working behind the scenes to back Pritzker in the Democratic primary.