Illinois GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner is making headlines of the scandalous sort for an alleged pay-for-play political donation that led to business for his private equity firm.
The multi-millionaire venture capitalist donated $300,000 to the 2002 campaign of former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, after which Rendell -- a Democrat -- helped promote Rauner's company, GTCR, for pension business in the state, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday.
The report, something of a bombshell, throws a wrench into Rauner's anti-corruption crusade against Illinois' entrenched Democratic machine and rival Pat Quinn, whom the Republican candidate has repeatedly compared to disgraced ex-governor Rod Blagojevich.
Rendell told all to the Trib's right-leaning editorial board on Thursday while presenting his case for increased construction funding. He recalled that he touted GTCR to Pennsylvania pension board members after Rauner made a pair of contributions to his campaign fund.
"What happened is what I would do with anyone who gave me money," he said. "I would say to the pension boards … I'd just say, 'Listen, this is a company that I know is doing good things.' I knew Bruce's company was very successful. I said, 'Take a look at them.' And that was the best I could do."
Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf did not immediately respond to Ward Room's request for comment. In a statement to the Trib, Schrimpf flat-out denied Rauner knew Rendell would plug GTCR for pension business and called Rendell "pathetic."
"After dining with Pat Quinn less than two months ago, Democrat Ed Rendell is now making wild accusations that fly in the face of reason and indisputable facts," the statement reads. "Bruce and Rendell never discussed pension business but did discuss Bruce's passion for education reform in Chicago and the need for nationwide coordination of reform efforts. It's clear that national Democrats are closing ranks around the worst governor in America and will say anything to try and save him. Pathetic."
(Gov. Quinn's camp denies allegations that the incumbent Democrat masterminded such a strategy.)
Rendell said he cultivated a relationship with Rauner while serving as general chairman of the Democratic National Convention during the 2000 presidential election. Rauner donated $40,000 to the DNC during that time, and Rendell said the Winnetka-based businessman had backed both Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Rauner founded GTCR in 1980 and retired in 2012 to run for governor. The firm is headquartered in Chicago and oversees public pension investments in various states.
In recent months, he has waged an increasingly negative war against Quinn while dealing with all sorts of bad press over his private-equity past -- most notably, a seedy, "bust-out" scheme involving the mismanagement inside GTCR-run nursing homes.