Jim Dey: Now that's rich: Democrats have vast treasure of campaign rhetoric

Jim Dey: Now that's rich: Democrats have vast treasure of campaign rhetoric

"The rich are different from you and me." — F. Scott Fitzgerald.

"Yes, they have more money." — Ernest Hemingway.

There's a substantial dispute about whether that exchange of observations about the rotten rich took place in the manner commonly described.

But there's no doubt about the truth of Hemingway's purported response.

That was made eminently clear last week when multi-gazillionaire Democratic gubernatorial candidates J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy revealed some of their income tax records and, even more important, filed statements of economic interest with the Illinois secretary of state's office.

Before Pritzker and Kennedy made their financial disclosures, a third Democratic candidate — state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston — demanded transparency from them and asked, "What are they hiding?"

He's still asking that question, but amplified his political attacks after his discovery that Pritzker/Kennedy not only have big incomes but have investments in companies he does not like.

In a statement issued under the name of his campaign manager Abby Witt, not the candidate, she stated, "JB Pritzker's and Chris Kennedy's financial disclosures perfectly encapsulate why we should be skeptical of billionaire businessmen who say they'll fight for us — and why we need to see full tax returns to better understand their financial interests. How can we trust someone invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline to stand against big oil once in office? Someone invested in the nation's largest cigarette company to work to curb teen smoking? Someone invested in fracking to keep fracking out of our state? The revelations of these financial disclosure forms, a legally-required bare minimum standard of transparency, raise serious doubts in my mind — and make me wonder what they're still hiding."

Biss' campaign manager expresses "serious doubts" about Biss' two main rivals. Will wonders never cease?

The money/tax/investment issue Biss seeks to inflame is a perfect example of how rival candidates try to manufacture differences among themselves when they are in agreement on practically all the issues.

That said, Biss cites an issue that Democrats have tried to exploit from time to time, usually against Republicans. Anyone remember when former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Ewing and Democratic congressional candidate Laurel Prussing exchanged charges and counter-charges about who owned shares in tobacco stocks and how much?

Both Pritzer and Kennedy identified hundreds of public companies, mutual funds and private investment vehicles in which they have invested their money.

Pritzker, who's an heir to a family fortune and is estimated to be worth more than $3 billion, produced a list that he said "discloses the identity of every underlying asset" in any entity that he has "an ownership interest" in or "constructive" control of.

It ran 12 pages in length with roughly 60 companies, mutual funds or partnerships on each page.

It includes oil companies (Chevron), tobacco companies (Philip Morris), defense contractors (Honeywell and Lockheed) and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It also included the Dollar Shave Club, Procter & Gamble, Herbalife and McDonalds.

Kennedy's list was shorter but, by ordinary standards, still mind-boggling. Five of his seven-page list identified about 50 public companies, mutual funds and partnerships. Lists on the other two pages were about half those of the other five.

By way of comparison, the lists of companies in which both candidates invest pretty much resembles the kinds of investments public and private pension funds make and that benefit many, many millions of Americans.

Biss, a former math professor at the University of Chicago, knows that. But he's trying to use Democratic Party bogeyman to scare voters away from Kennedy and Pritzker to him.

So he's against oil companies because they produce oil but raise the specter of global warming. He's against companies that do defense work because they present an image of the military-industrial complex. He's against tobacco companies because they produce a dangerous product that too many people freely choose to use.

It's pretty shallow stuff because, then, political campaigns are about striking emotional chords. Besides, the news media understands the "bad company, bad candidate" argument and will happily embrace that line over more complicated, less exciting issues like pension shortfalls and government reorganization.

There's no sign, so far, that Biss is getting anywhere with his latest political offensive. Unlike Kennedy and Pritzker, he doesn't have the money to carpet bomb all areas of the state with TV and radio commercials.

But he's plugging away, hoping his niche appeal to Sen. Bernie Sanders-type voters will be a winner in the multi-candidate March primary contest. If he wins, Biss can redirect his fire at Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Unlike Kennedy and Pritzker, Rauner earned his fortune on his own rather than the old-fashioned way — inheritance. But rich is rich, and, in Biss' world, nothing good can come of that.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 27-351-5369.

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