What do you give to a governor who has two mansions and can afford anything he wants? How about a $950 bottle of Japanese whisky. Or $450 worth of tequila. Or a bust of Abe Lincoln?
Those were among the 130 gifts Gov. J.B. Pritzker has logged getting since taking office a little over a year ago, records show. The uber-wealthy Illinois politician also reported getting six hats, a smattering of scarves, 14 shirts and 54 books among a haul that his staff values at an estimated $25,230.
The priciest present? A bottle of Hibiki Blender’s Choice, an aged whisky from Japan’s Suntory Distillery that retails for $950, given to Pritzker by “the Japanese embassy.”
Though state records don’t give a date for that gift, Pritzker was slated to attend the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association conference in Tokyo last September before a stress fracture sidelined him for weeks.
The gifts came from ordinary citizens as well as dignitaries, companies and organizations he visited, according to his staff, which didn’t list who gave each item.
Pritzker didn’t keep any of it, according to spokeswoman Jordan Abuddayeh, who says the governor shared anything perishable with his staff and put the rest in secure storage locations at the Thompson Center and the Capitol until they are donated to charity.
“We’re in the process of identifying the charities that could use the variety of gifts that have been given to the governor,” Abuddayeh says.
Illinois has rules about gifts to public officials and state employees, spelling out what they’re supposed to do with swag they’re given by anyone besides a limited list of relatives or friends. They can’t, for instance, take a gift from a state vendor, would-be vendor or lobbyist. Gifts or donations for political campaigns are tallied on separate filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
In the first weeks of his administration, Pritzker was given books on Illinois history and a self-published volume titled “Finding America’s Greatest Champion,” sent by its author.
Since then, he’s gotten a coffee mug from the German consulate, salt from “the ambassador of Switzerland” and a $150 plate from India’s consul general. Cinespace Movie Studio Chicago, a recipient of state grants before Pritzker took office, gave him a T-shirt and Post-Its. The University of Chicago gave him granite coasters to mark the opening of a new campus building.
Someone Pritzker’s staff identified only as a “citizen” sent the state’s third Jewish governor a package in December containing a Christmas ornament, a bookmark, chocolate and a “Bodyguard” CD, presumably from the Whitney Houston movie. Another unidentified person gave him a Bible. And someone sent a book just after Pritzker’s inauguration: “How to Have the Best Year of Your Life.”
The gifts and some details about who gave them were listed in documents Pritzker’s office released in response to a public records request for information about gifts that he’s gotten as well as those given to his two most recent predecessors.
The logs list Republican former Gov. Bruce Rauner as having gotten just 10 items in his first year in office, 2015. It showed Rauner received chocolates that December, eight books — including one titled “Don’t Sell Yourself Short” — and a painting. It didn’t include prices or say what was done with the items. Rauner representatives didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn, unseated by Rauner in 2014, logged 1,294 gifts during the six years he headed state government.
“When people give you things, you accept them with gratitude,” Quinn says. “A great many of the items I received I re-gifted.”
The knick-knacks and tchotchkes and plaques — “very thoughtful things, some kind of remembrance of your time at a town in Illinois or at an organization, things like that,” as Quinn describes them — sometimes were displayed at the governor’s office and eventually went to an archivist at Northwestern University, where Quinn went to law school.
“You go to Canada, they give you a book on Canada, a book on Japan, a book on China or Brazil,” Quinn says.
Most of the books and food were given to charity. Notes show that candy — there was some from the president of Turkey — frequently was “distributed to staff.”
All of the T-shirts and Polos and jackets — unless they came emblazoned with his name on them — were passed along to Catholic Charities.
The most expensive gift that Quinn logged — a $500 Visconti fountain pen in 2012 from an Italian lawyer at law firm Baker McKenzie — was donated to the Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association.
As for fancy liquor or wine, including a $30 bottle Quinn received from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “We didn’t get too much of that,” says the former governor, who ran campaign ads showing him mowing his own lawn. “I could tell you I never drank any of it.”