A communications staffer ousted by Gov. Bruce Rauner is accusing the governor’s office of stonewalling on requests for public information, including emails to and from first lady Diana Rauner regarding an abortion bill the governor angered conservatives by signing.
Diana Rickert — a former staffer of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute — filed the lawsuit on Jan. 5 in Cook County Circuit Court.
She served as the governor’s deputy chief of staff for communications for about five weeks last year. And she’s now listed as the vice president of the Liberty Justice Center, according to her LinkedIn page.
Rickert and two other communications staffers were asked to resign a day after Rickert wrote a statement citing Rauner’s position as a “white male” as a reason for him not to weigh in on an Illinois Policy Institute cartoon some called racist. Another communications staffer involved in the issue was urged to stay on staff, but chose to resign.
It was the second staff purge in two months. Rauner fired several communications staffers in July 2017, with others resigning in protest.
Rickert claims she filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to the governor’s office in September and October 2017, including requests for emails sent to former chief of staff Kristina Rasmussen from state employees in the Department of Innovation and Technology, and others sent to Rasmussen “regarding internet browsing history for state employees.”
Like Rickert, Rasmussen was a former employee of the Illinois Policy Institute. The governor last year plucked several staff members from the conservative think tank — but most are out. Rasmussen left the administration in October after 88 days, just a week after Rauner signed House Bill 40, a controversial abortion bill that Rasmussen and many other conservative Republicans vehemently oppose.
Rauner’s decision was a shock to many, including legislators who sponsored the measure, which expanded taxpayer funding of abortion and sought to protect women’s reproductive rights even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
The signing of the bill seemed impossible last April, when Rauner said he wouldn’t support it because of “sharp divisions of opinion on taxpayer funding of abortion.” That sparked months of campaigns by gubernatorial candidates and abortion rights groups, who argued the moderate governor was going back on his word that he did not have a social agenda. Personal PAC, an abortion rights group, also targeted the first lady, calling both Rauners liars over a candidate questionnaire Bruce Rauner signed touting his own support for women’s reproductive rights.
Rickert also asked for emails to and from Diana Rauner from June 1, 2017 that include the following terms: “abortion, HB40, reproductive rights, Personal PAC, Planned Parenthood, Terry Cosgrove.” The request included a personal email address, a state email address and one from her role with the Ounce of Prevention.
Additionally, Rickert asked for emails to and from Rauner’s policy chief Michael Lucci since Aug. 25 that also included the same abortion-related search items.
The Chicago Sun-Times is one of several media outlets also seeking emails from the first lady and other Rauner staffers. The Sun-Times request is under appeal.
Rickert is asking the court to enter a judgment that she is entitled to records sought in her requests and wants the court to order the governor’s office to produce all records. She’s also seeking attorney fees and costs, and any additional relief.
The non-profit Liberty Justice Center —the Illinois Policy Institute’s “free-market public-interest litigation center” — is representing Rickert in the suit. The center didn’t respond for a request for comment on the suit. The governor’s office said the suit was “under review.”