New ‘dark money’ political group’s donors — and agenda — are murky

SHARE New ‘dark money’ political group’s donors — and agenda — are murky

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to cabinet members during a meeting at the state Capitol in Springfield last month. File Photo. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Those bashful rich people who want to anonymously throw money at politicians willing to do their bidding are back — with bigger bucks at their disposal and new horizons ahead.

Four years after helping wealthy donors secretly invest $1 million in Chicago aldermanic candidates who shared Rahm Emanuel’s policy views, political consultant Greg Goldner announced Wednesday he is managing a new group of “progressive Democrats” that expects to plow $20 million into influencing Democratic state legislators “to support budget compromise.”

Illinoisans for Growth and Opportunity has organized as a non-profit “social welfare” agency, which allows it to push its agenda without disclosing its donors just as For a Better Chicago did in 2011 — a practice you may have heard called “dark money.”

It also plans to form its own super PAC to donate directly to campaigns with only some of the donors to be identified. I’m told there will be some overlap in donors, but of course, we’ll never know because For a Better Chicago operated in secret.

What exactly is their agenda, you might be wondering.

The group isn’t really talking specifics, but I think we can safely deduce from its attack rhetoric about “irresponsible” Democratic party leaders overly influenced by “special interests” that it will be an agenda more likely to be favored by new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Plus, there’s this. When I asked Samuel C. Scott III, one of the group’s three named board members, about whether the purpose of the organization was to back Rauner’s moves in Springfield, he said:

“It’s to give him support, yes. It’s to try to make clear some of the things he’s doing.”

I asked Scott, retired chairman of Corn Products Intl., if he had spoken to Rauner personally about this. He said he hadn’t, but added: “I know he’s talked to Tony Anderson.”

Scott was referring to Anthony K. Anderson, a retired vice chair at Ernst & Young who was identified as chairman of the group.

Anderson didn’t agree with Scott’s characterization.

“I’m not sure the governor is going to like what we do,” said Anderson, arguing that his goal is to “give Democrats cover” to take tough votes that might put them at political risk.

“We’ve talked to everybody, including the governor, about this,” he said.

A third member of the group’s board of directors, Patricia Pulido-Sanchez, who operates her own communications and marketing company, was clear about her political allegiances.

“I am a Rauner supporter. I think he’s the best governor we’ve had in a long time,” said Pulido, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering that her husband, attorney Manny Sanchez, has also been a prominent supporter of Rauner’s.

Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said the governor “has long advocated that Republicans and Democrats should get involved with cleaning up the mess in Springfield. The first he heard of the group was this morning, and he’s interested in seeing what their agenda is.”

As I told Trover, that’s going to be awkward because it was clear to me from my conversations with Scott and Pulido-Sanchez that they expect to be taking their signals from Rauner.

Anderson, though, said I have the wrong impression. “Watch what we do and then draw conclusions,” he urged.

This group is not to be confused with the $20 million pot of dough Rauner put together right after the election to help him directly buy legislative support — using $10 million of his own funds, $8 million from billionaire Ken Griffin and $2 million from conservative businessman Richard Uihlein. Last time I checked, none of them was pretending to be progressive Democrats, which obviously makes them a less attractive source of campaign cash for Democrats trying to keep their seats.

Notably, the three board members identified Wednesday have donated a combined total of less than $50,000 to state and local political candidates in Illinois in their lifetimes. That means somebody else made those $20 million in commitments the group says it has received.

You might wonder what is so “progressive” about using dark money to influence politicians.

“These structures are used all over the country,” Pulido-Sanchez protested.

Yes, and all over the country, real progressives denounce the practice, because it stinks.

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