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Gov. Pat Quinn. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

Exclusive: Sitdown interview with Gov. Pat Quinn

Blasting Bruce Rauner’s “alibis” as “totally insufficient,” Gov. Pat Quinn is calling on his GOP rival to return to the state millions of dollars in fees his firm once won in Illinois state pension business.

Quinn called it an “ethical breach” not to disclose that a board member who voted to dole out the money was being paid by a Rauner company.

Quinn fired the salvo in an exclusive sit-down interview with Early & Often about his upcoming general election campaign in which the governor vowed he wouldn’t be out-campaigned by anyone.



Quinn also defended unions and scoffed at Rauner’s portrayal of labor as attempting to bribe politicians with campaign contributions.

“I think it’s a lot of baloney. People have a right to form organizations, unions, to bargain for their wages and their working conditions,” Quinn said. “That’s as American as apple pie. That’s good for America.”

Quinn, 65, is seeking his second full-term in office.

 

With no formidable opponent in the primary, Quinn was able to safeguard the more than $4.5 million in his campaign account. Quinn has been preparing for a rival in recent weeks hiring Bill Hyers, the same strategist who managed New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's successful campaign.

During the interview, Quinn focused on a 2003 vote by Stuart Levine, who sat on the Teachers Retirement System board at the same time Levine was being paid $25,000 a month by a company owned by Rauner’s GTCR. GTCR was seeking a bump in its pension business and did not initially win it. At the following pension meeting, Rauner showed up to make a pitch to the board for a $50 million state investment. The board — including Levine, who was being paid $300,000 a year by a GTCR-owned company — voted in favor of the investment.

“[Rauner] failed to disclose to the Teachers Retirement System that he had an employee of one of his companies who was on that board,” Quinn said.

“Everyone who’s on a pension board — and I served on a pension board — you have a fiduciary duty … Rauner knew or should have known that he had this conflict because the man was making what, $25,000 a month on this job.”

“The firm really has, in my view, an ethical duty to return the money to the public.” The salvo from Quinn takes aim at messages Rauner has promoted during the past year in his pitch to steal the governor’s post: that he will bring ethics to Springfield as well as a solid business background.

“There is no excuse for not knowing that is an ethical breach,” Quinn said. “The explanations, the alibis that were voiced in the primary, are totally insufficient.”

The Levine issue dogged Rauner during the Republican primary campaign, including in a TV spot that attacked Rauner for links to Levine, who pleaded guilty to taking part in kickback schemes.

Rauner has said the contract between a firm called CompDent employing Levine as a lobbyist was penned before GTCR took ownership of it. It was still active when Levine voted on GTCR’s bid for pension business, but Rauner has said he was not aware of that and did not have a personal relationship with Levine.

"Pat Quinn should quit playing political games, he's already done enough damage to retirees and state workers," Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf told the Sun-Times. "Bruce and GTCR have provided Illinois retirees and teachers with tremendous returns, helping secure them a better a retirement. That's why they were hired."

The fees paid by the Teachers Retirement System in calendar year 2003 to GTCR totaled more than $1.17 million, according to TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek. Those fees were paid on two separate commitments, including $70 million to Fund VII and $50 million to Fund VIII. Broken down, the fees were $816,326 for Fund VII and $354,053 for Fund VIII. Additional fees are earned over time based on a percentage of the return.

For its part, GTCR has performed remarkably well for the state. Urbanek said between 2000 and 2003, TRS committed a total of $119.9 million to GTCR. "At the end of September 2013, the system’s GTCR investments had returned a profit of 25.01 percent," he said.

Urbanek explained that as a benchmark, the 10-year rate of return at the end of 2013 for TRS' entire Private Equity portfolio was 14.6%.

 

Quinn said, “You have an ethical duty of disclosure, there’s no question about it. That was an ethical violation by his company and by himself. They knew or should have known that a member of the board was on the payroll of a company that was seeking $50 million from the fund.

“They basically did not fully disclose relevant facts to the board before the board voted. That should disqualify them from any kind of fees earned on that money,” Quinn said. “They did not follow their ethical duty, nor did Mr. Rauner, who was their chief salesman, who came to the meeting before a board. The board is the one that decides, they have a duty, an ethical duty to disclose all relevant facts before the board votes. They failed to do that, and so to earn fees on $50 million or $100 million — is just plain wrong.”

Here is an edited question and answer with the governor.

Q: (Rauner) did come back around and he did call for an increase in the minimum wage with caveats.

A: He got caught red-handed calling for a cut in the minimum wage. I think that’s the bottom line. That’s the real Bruce Rauner, a billionaire who doesn’t have any understanding of what it’s like to live from paycheck to paycheck. Folks who do hard jobs, who don’t want to live in poverty, who are following all the rules, working 40 hours a week. We ought to raise their pay to help our economy if we want to be competitive, we should make sure that those literally hundreds of thousands of folks who would benefit from a wage increase, they should come first. Billionaires like Bruce Rauner should move to the back of the line. We’re not going to let him get away with what he said in the primary. He’s trying to duck that issue.

Q: Bruce Rauner said he is probably part of the 0.01 percent, how would you answer that question?

A: Well, I have one home, I don’t have nine mansions. I will never be part of the 1 percent. Matter of fact, I’ll be about 102 before I pay back my kid’s college loan.

I think it’s important to understand it isn’t going to be about who has the most money who wins this election, it’s who connects to everyday people who are the heart and soul of Illinois. I believe in government of the many; he believes in government of the money. I think there will be a real contest of values here … he’s just going around bragging about his abundance of money, I don’t think that connects you to the real lives of every day people. We want a government that is fair to all, not just the billionaires.

Q: What do you think of Rauner’s contention that taking money from unions is tantamount to taking a bribe?

A: I think it’s a lot of baloney. People have a right to form organizations, unions to bargain for their wages and their working conditions. That’s as American as apple pie. That’s good for America. It helps our economy to make sure that people have a decent wage and decent health care and decent benefits. I just don’t know what he’s driving at. First of all, he’s against minimum-wage workers, he wants to drive them down and literally take $2,000 out of their pockets. And then for folks who vote for a union, he wants to attack those unions and make it hard for people to have that ability at the bargaining table.

These plutocrats at the top of the power heap, they may have a lot of money, but they don’t have any understanding of everyday people and what they go through.

In this campaign we’re going to make it crystal clear that we know what it’s like. I know firsthand how to fight hard for working people who don’t have a champion. That’s how I started the Citizens Utility Board.

Q: Rauner has been attacking you since December. You have not responded.

A: You gotta win the semifinals before you fight in the finals. … I’ve been in a lot of tough fights in my whole life. I know Rauner is going to run a lot of TV commercials, and they’re not going to refer to me as a loving son of a loving mother. My mother is 96 and she does love me.

Q: People say don’t underestimate Pat Quinn. What do you say to that?

A: I know how to run long-distance … I believe in organizing. I ran cross-country in high school. You get to the starting line, there are no timeouts before the starting line and the finish line … I sort of adhere to that philosophy of life: You never ever give up … we started our first petition drive that ended advance pay for politicians. This was 40 years ago … people said it couldn’t happen. I really feel that when folks say it can’t be done, it’s more incentive to work harder.

Q: Bruce Rauner says you’re an insider and now part of Springfield.

A: Well, he didn’t help us when we started the Citizens Utility Board, he certainly didn’t help us when we ended advance pay or reduced the size of the Legislature by referendum … or worked on various efforts to raise the minimum wage. I had that on the ballot here in Cook County in 2006. … He was nowhere to be found when we passed a constitutional amendment for recall. I got that done. Those are pretty good indicators of strengthening the voters … I’ve been doing that all my life.

Q: In fairness, Stuart Levine fooled a lot of people, didn’t he?

A: They could have taken action if they thought he was doing wrong. ... His resume says member of the retirement system board. Board member. C’mon. These are companies asking for tens of millions — not millions — tens of millions.

Q: Paul Vallas supports charter schools. Since you picked him as a lieutenant governor, does that mean you’re open to charter expansion?

A: No, Paul Vallas believes in public education. So do I. We believe in funding public education. A very, very important issue this year, we’ll be talking about that soon. ... He’s committed to a fair, open budget to properly fund education.

Q: Can you compete with Bruce Rauner’s sophisticated campaign organization?

A: I’m a people person, always have been. I don’t think anybody is going to out campaign me when it comes to interacting with everyday people … 4 million signatures I’ve collected over the years.