Ex-Gaming Board chief accused of donating illegal campaign cash — allegations he calls ‘a political hit job’
Don Tracy, an appointee of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, called the executive inspector general’s report “baloney.” “A lot of people around here hate Rauner,” Tracy said from his Downstate office.
The former head of the Illinois Gaming Board made or directed numerous political campaign contributions in violation of state law while he was at the helm of the regulatory agency — including to former Gov. Bruce Rauner, the man who appointed him to the post, according to a top government watchdog report released Wednesday.
Illinois’ gambling law prohibits Gaming Board members from engaging in “any political activity,” but throughout his term starting in 2015, Don Tracy — who resigned as board chairman in mid-June — made 30 political donations totaling more than $20,000, mostly through his wife, Wanda Tracy, the Office of the Executive Inspector General ruled.
Checks totaling $7,600, each signed by Wanda Tracy, went to Rauner’s campaign fund, the inspector’s office found.
Tracy labeled the report “a political hit job,” “a bunch of baloney” and “an unconstitutional wild goose chase” that wasted taxpayer dollars. But he declined to say who he thinks is behind what he termed an “inflammatory political report based on speculation and unsubstantiated conspiracy theory.”
“I didn’t lobby for this job,” Tracy said of the labor-intensive, low-paying chairmanship. “I would say this falls under the category of ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ “
Tracy — a Springfield attorney who previously made failed bids as a Democrat for the state Senate and as a Republican for lieutenant governor — said he doesn’t think Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office was out to get him. But he hinted it could be tied to his vocal — and financial — support for Rauner over the years.
“A lot of people around here hate Rauner,” Tracy said by phone from his Downstate office.
But the report comes from the office of Susan Haling, who was appointed executive inspector general by Rauner in March 2018.
State law defines political activity as “any activity in support of or in connection with any campaign for federal, State, or local elective office or any political organization.” Members can be removed by the governor “for engaging in any political activity,” the law states.
Tracy told state investigators he wasn’t aware that could be interpreted to include political contributions “until shortly before or after his first day on the job” — but he called it an “unconstitutional” violation of his free speech either way.
He did acknowledge making out checks to his “inactive” political committee, Central Illinois for Responsible Government, to cover bank account fees and a state Board of Elections fine for a late 2014 report, Tracy said.
While Don Tracy had made hundreds of political donations during 17 years prior to his term on the board, his wife made just one over the same timeframe.
That’s why the inspector ruled “it is not credible that she suddenly decided to make 26 political contributions, including 6 to the same committees Don Tracy previously supported, without any direction from her husband or even discussion with him about it.”
Other recipients included the Sangamon County Republican Foundation and former GOP Illinois attorney general candidate Erika Harold.
“To the contrary, the evidence supports a conclusion that Don Tracy at least discussed the contributions with his wife, and such collaboration shows that the decisions to make the contributions were, at minimum, joint decisions between the Tracys,” the report says.
In a statement, Don Tracy said that conclusion was “not only sexist and insulting; it also implies that women/spouses are incapable of making campaign contributions without being directed by a man.”
Wanda Tracy said as much in a letter to the Executive Ethics Commission detailing her involvement in Springfield political circles.
“Without saying so directly, based on its conspiracy, the OEIG characterized me as a political puppet for my husband without even meeting or speaking to me,” she wrote.
“Frankly, the OEIG owes me an apology.”
The inspector recommended Pritzker “take whatever action he deems appropriate with regard to Don Tracy,” and that the governor’s office “take steps to ensure that any future appointees to the Gaming Board are trained” regarding political activity restrictions.
Pritzker’s office did not say whether they’d take any action against Tracy but did say training would be implemented for appointees.
“Gov. Pritzker wanted a board comprised of the most talented professionals he could assemble to oversee the historic progress being made in the gaming industry, and the Governor appointed members to the Illinois Gaming Board who will carry out that important work with the highest ethical standards,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email.