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Rauner Allegedly Hammers, Shakes Sun-Times After Unflattering Article

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 19, 2014 6:00PM


With a couple weeks remaining until voters swallow hard before voting for Illinois' next governor, Bruce Rauner's campaign has been beset by unflattering reports that the venture capitalist tried to "hammer and shake" the Sun-Times into interfering with a reporter after the paper published an article that cast Rauner in an unfavorable light.

Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney has retained former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to investigate whether the Rauner campaign attempted to have the Sun-Times take action against McKinney after an article published in the paper detailed alleged hardball tactics Rauner took against the former CEO of an Arizona company in which Rauner's venture capital firm invested money. Christine Kirk of LeapSource, a business-outsourcing firm, accused Rauner (who sat on Leapsource's board) of threatening her personally and through another LeapSource board member, Thomas Gilman in a 2005 lawsuit. (That lawsuit was later settled out of court.)

“I will make her radioactive,” Rauner allegedly told Gilman, according to the complaint. “She will never get another job anywhere, ever. I will bankrupt her with legal fees. I don’t know if she has a family or not, but if she does, she better think twice about this.”

These and other money quotes have been re-circulated in local and state media by Gov. Pat Quinn's campaign as the gubernatorial race heads into its final weeks and paint a different picture of Rauner than the one he's carefully crafted since winning the GOP nomination last spring. Rauner and his handlers have understandably grown upset with the article written by McKinney, Carol Marin and Don Moseley.

Collins told Crain's Chicago Business he's looking into whether the Rauner campaign asked the paper to punish McKinney because of alleged conflicts of interest on McKinney's part. McKinney is married to Democratic media consultant Ann Liston; Collins says the couple have arrangements in place to avoid any conflicts of interest. Sun-Times editor-in-chief Jim Kirk rejected the Rauner campaign's claims.

"Dave McKinney remains on his beat as Springfield Bureau Chief and continues to be one of our best political reporters on our talented team," wrote Mr. Kirk, a former Crain's editor.

"Mr. Rauner's campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf did level allegations with me that proved inaccurate and spurious," Mr. Kirk wrote.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we did review this matter and we are convinced Dave's wife Ann Liston receives no financial benefit from any Illinois political campaign because of the extraordinary steps they've taken to establish business safeguards. Dave's body of work during this campaign, including the ground-breaking stories on the investigation involving Gov. Pat Quinn and the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, demonstrates the hard-nosed reporting he has done on both campaigns. Both Dave and Ann are conscientious, ethical and among the best at their professions."

The Sun-Times, coincidentally, reversed nearly three years of public policy regarding political endorsements this weekend and endorsed Rauner for governor. Saying the gubernatorial race "is simply too important for the future of Illinois to stay silent," the paper's editorial board touts Rauner as "an extraordinarily capable businessman who just might have what it takes to break the stranglehold of uninspired, self-serving, one-party rule in Springfield."

This raises questions about the relationship between Rauner and businessman Michael Ferro, the chairman of Wrappports ,the company that owns the Sun-Times, Chicago Reader and other area newspapers. Media critic Robert Feder was skeptical of Ferro's motives regarding the Sun-Times' reversal on political endorsements.

In recent weeks, sources said, Ferro has been exerting pressure on editors regarding coverage of Rauner, who held a 10 percent stake in Wrapports before he became a candidate for governor.

The back-pedaling by the Sun-Times may have been foreshadowed earlier in the week when the paper ran a full-throated editorial in support of Rauner (“Economy only thing that matters”) that many regarded as a tacit endorsement.

Questioned about it by Chicago magazine political blogger Carol Felsenthal, Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief Jim Kirk said: “This was not a backdoor endorsement. If it were an endorsement we would be upfront about it.”

Collins declined to comment to Crain's regarding the details of his investigation but he's proven to be a dogged investigator. Collins led the prosecution that resulted in former Gov. George Ryan's conviction on corruption charges stemming from the "licenses for bribes" scandal. Now an attorney with the firm Perkins Cole, Collins' specialty is "representing companies and individuals in complex civil and criminal matters in federal courts throughout the United States."

If McKinney has retained a former federal prosecutor to investigate his claims, this is a story that bears following beyond November.