Dillard’s clarity on clout is confusing

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On an unseasonably warm day last week, state Sen. Kirk Dillard held a news conference on a Michigan Avenue sidewalk to blast gubernatorial primary opponent Bruce Rauner.

He bashed Rauner for using clout to get his daughter into an elite Chicago high school, declaring it a “perpetual pattern of pay-to-play activity.”

Yet, it couldn’t go unnoticed that even as Dillard hurled criticism, the Hinsdale Republican himself was exposed, and not just because he wasn’t wearing a coat that day.

When the focus turned to Dillard, however, his answers grew curt.

What did Dillard have to say about his struggles to raise money and that his campaign fund appeared buoyed by his running mate?

Dillard’s response: “Ask her.”

Had he ever used clout as a consideration when he served as Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff?

“No, not me,” Dillard said.

What about his name appearing on a clout list to get students into University of Illinois?

Dillard shrugged it off. He described the U. of I. clout as publicly aired, and as just “one story” involving him vs. a “pattern” of behavior demonstrated by Rauner.

Dillard then made two assertions.

The first: He wrote letters of recommendation for “one or two people.”

The second: None of his recommendations made the cut.

Neither was true.

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Please enable Javascript to watch this videoDillard’s name showed up seven times on an infamous list made public by the Chicago Tribune in 2009, and three of his recommendations for entry made it in.

“People refer people all the time, and that’s what he did,” Dillard campaign spokesman Gary Mack said in a follow-up.

Why didn’t Dillard just say that?

“He misspoke or he forgot,” Mack said. “To me, a couple is not that different than seven. If it was 500 that he did, then I could say ‘OK, he was trying to brush this under the carpet.’ ”

Dillard did follow up and say he recommended that the University of Illinois board be revamped as well as the policies.

The next night at a candidates’ forum, however, Dillard’s team said he again “misspoke.”

Standing in front of a conservative crowd in a Will County tea party governor’s forum, he was asked about Rauner’s criticism of politicians taking money from public unions and how Dillard reconciled that with taking $250,000 in public union money in his 2010 unsuccessful bid for governor.

“You said it was 2010 when the teachers gave me that money. I haven’t seen it yet and don’t know if it’s coming,” Dillard told the crowd.

This was so obviously not true; it’s unclear how Dillard could have even uttered it. The $250,000 donation from the Illinois Education Association that he did get and already long spent in 2010 was among the largest he received in his campaign.

Was Dillard trying to say the right thing in front of the right crowd?

“No, no, he literally just left out a few words,” Mack insisted, explaining that Dillard really meant that he was unsure if he were to benefit from public money in this race.

“He misspoke on that in terms of what he meant,” Mack said. “He’s fully aware he took that money. That was probably the largest sum that he received.”

That got me thinking about an exchange with Dillard last year.

When the Sun-Times asked Dillard whether rumors were true that he was thinking about voting against the pension bill to keep the possibility open for union support, Dillard was adamant: “I always supported pension reform,” he said then. “I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be [in support].”

He then voted against it.

So taking it all into account is Dillard’s clout issue just “one story”?

Maybe.

But if he isn’t careful, doubts about his credibility may begin to look like a “perpetual pattern.”

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