For a state that has seen its share of wealthy political candidates, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner truly stands out.
On Monday, former venture capitalist Rauner disclosed that he made $53 million in 2012, in a statement of economic interest field as part of his nominating petitions. His campaign also released portions of joint federal tax returns for Rauner and his wife, Diana, showing an adjusted gross income of $27 million in 2010, $28 million in 2011 and $53 million last year.
The Chicago Tribune also detailed Rauner’s real estate holdings, including a 6,870-square-foot mansion on a half-acre lot in Winnetka, ranches in Montana and Wyoming, and a $10 million penthouse in a landmark co-op building along New York's Central Park, among others.
All in all, a lot of wealth for anyone—but particularly for someone whose political campaign is built on his self-proclaimed outsider status and down-home, regular guy appeal.
As a centerpiece of his campaign, Rauner has hammered home the idea that despite his business background, he’s essentially someone who will get things done in Springfield because he’s not a “career politician”.
His official biography drives home the point:
Bruce has never let his success change him. He still drives a 20-year-old camper van, wears an $18 watch, and stays in the cheapest hotel room he can find when he’s on the road.
For most of us, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a successful person running for political office in America.
In fact, there’s a lot to be said for someone who’s able to master the business world looking to apply his or her skills in public service.
What can be problematic, however, is the ways, spoken and unspoken, that having great wealth can inform or decide a candidate’s policy perspectives.
Call it “rich guy’s perception bias,” if you will.
Can a person who will never have to worry about his financial future really understand what’s best for a retiree living on a fixed income when it comes to pension reform, for example?
Or, how about deciding what’s more important—the rights or workers or the rights of business owners? Can a man or woman who never has to worry whether property taxes will drive them out of a home know what’s best in reforming the state’s tax or education systems?
The truth is, there’s a reason why wealthy candidates in Illinois and elsewhere like to portray themselves as unchanged by their wealth: because to admit otherwise would expose potential gaps in understanding what it would be like to face the kind of everyday concerns most voters care about.
After all, there’s a big difference between managing an income and real estate portfolio worth millions of dollars and managing a family budget in the tens of thousands.
Smart observers have noted that by disclosing his actual wealth this early in the campaign, Rauner is keeping his opponents from defining who he is.
But the real question is whether, come Election Day, Rauner has done a good enough job convincing voters his wealth doesn’t mean he can’t see things through their eyes.