Billionaire Bruce Rauner.
It has a nice ring to it. It rolls off the tongue. Plus, there’s the alliteration bonus.
Democrats — local and national — who back Gov. Pat Quinn,ladle the term onto just about every news release like it’s political venom. It screams out from Quinn campaign headlines: “Billionaire Bruce Rauner’s Brutal Budget …” “Billionaire;Rauner donates hundreds of thousands of dollars…”
From the Democratic Governors Association: “After Tight Primary, Billionaire Bruce Rauner Enters General Election Hobbled & Exposed.”
From Labor: “The labor movement worked hard to make sure voters knew what billionaire candidate Bruce Rauner is all about.”
On primary election night, national political website Politico emailed a news alert saying this: “Billionaire businessman Bruce Rauner won a closer-than-expected Illinois Republican primary for governor …”
If you hear it often enough maybe it is true.
Except Rauner says it isn’t.
“He is not a billionaire,” spokesman Mike Schrimpf said when we circled back with him about it last week.
While Forbes has listed Rauner’s friends and some of his top donors on its annual accounting of billionaire’s worldwide, including Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, Rauner hasn’t appeared on it himself.
Schrimpf said a precise number is tough to pin down because much of Rauner’s money is in private equity funds, which fluctuate.
“It’s hard to value,” Schrimpf said. Still, he estimated Rauner’s wealth was “in the mid-nine figures.”
Then we both paused as we counted all the zeroes again.
Right. Nine figures.
“Give or take $10 million?” I joked. Or at least, I thought it was joke.
So, $500 million — a half a billionaire?
Bruce Rauner is really only a millionaire 500 times over? Oh please. Call us when you start making some real money.
The tax returns Rauner released last year showed he made about $108 million from 2010 and 2012. He has asked for an extension for 2013 taxes. Quinn released his 2013 taxes last week. The income he reported: $162,000.
That’s just the disparity that Quinn’s campaign is trying to drive home. Quinn is like the rest of you. Rauner is not.
The Quinn theme: Rauner’s wealth and the fact that he’s so proud of it mean he’s stingy, disconnected and can’t relate to the average Joe.
It’s much easier to convey that theme when you’re talking about someone so out of reach to the common Illinois voter as a billionaire.
The word “billionaire” appeared three times in an April 14 news release about an affordable mortgage program Quinn was pushing:
“Billionaire Bruce Rauner — who owns nine homes …” and “it’s clear this billionaire with nine homes of his own can’t relate.” “… This attack on everyday people again shows that billionaire Bruce Rauner is out-of-touch and doesn’t care about the people of Illinois …”
There were two billionaire references in a statement last week after Rauner released a robocall to tens of thousands Chicagoans.
“By contrast, billionaire Rauner — who was caught red-handed filing for three homestead exemptions …” the Quinn campaign said.
“It’s kind of signifying how out of touch he is with the everyday people of Illinois,” Izabela Miltko, Quinn campaign spokeswoman, said. “He’s a multimillionaire and he’s caught red-handed trying to cut the minimum wage. What would he stand for?”
“Has Bruce Rauner released all his schedules to you so that you are in fact sure he is not a billionaire?” Miltko said. “Until he does so there is no concrete facts to estimate how much he’s worth.”
So unless Rauner can prove he’s not a billionaire we should assume that he is?
“He has his hands dipped into businesses from birth to life to everything in between. Where are his FULL schedules on all of that?” she continued in an email. “As far as we’re concerned he’s the wealthiest and shadiest candidate to run for office in American history. The point is that voters deserve to know what a candidate has done.”
Rauner has never been shy about his wealth. In February, when the Sun-Times asked Rauner if he put himself into the 1 percent category, he responded: “Oh, I’m probably .01 percent,” of top incomes in the nation. He often says he’s proud of the money he’s earned.
To that extent, there’s some middle ground.
Rauner knows he’s rich. Quinn knows Rauner’s rich. They both know Quinn’s not.
Now we have to decide: How many zeroes do we want attached to our next governor?