When Bruce Rauner talks about the Republican Party, it's all about "we."
"We need dramatic transformation, and that's what I'm committed to do," the GOP gubernatorial candidate told Republicans in Ford County earlier this month. "We are the party of America. America was built on limited government, low taxes, individual liberty and personal responsibility. That's what we're about, and we are the party of America."
But Rauner's record — both in terms of campaign contributions he's made and his voting past — is less convincing.
Although he voted in Republican primaries at other times, Rauner took a Democratic ballot in the 2006 primary election.
The reason, said spokesman Mike Schrimpf, is that Rauner supported Democrat reformer Forrest Claypool over John Stroger for Cook County Board president.
Rauner is "absolutely not" a closet Democrat, Schrimpf said.
"It was a local issue where Stroger was one of the most infamous career politicians in Cook County history, which is saying quite a bit," Schrimpf said. "It was a vote against the Machine."
Schrimpf found a quote from Rauner in a 2006 Chicago Sun-Times story about the Claypool-Stroger race.
"I'm a huge believer in his skills and leadership," Rauner said of Claypool. "With the significant improvements needed in the operation of county government, we need someone independent, with tough-minded management, and Forrest is dramatically more qualified for that role than any candidate out there.'"
Ironically, the finance chairman of Rauner's campaign, Ron Gidwitz, was one of the Republican candidates for governor in that year's GOP primary, won by Judy Baar Topinka.
Whatever the reason for the vote, Rauner is the first Republican in recent memory to have declared himself a Democrat just eight years before seeking the GOP nomination for governor. It's likely his gubernatorial opponents will make note of the vote and the campaign contributions Rauner has made to Democrats.
Rauner and his wife Diana have given to the Democratic National Committee, Sen. Dick Durbin, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, Sen. Max Baucus and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, campaign disclosure records show. The wealthy couple have given more than $2.5 million in donations to candidates and causes in both parties.
"That's all from my wife. She's a very big Democrat," Rauner said of the Democratic donations following an appearance at the Champaign County Republican Party's fall festival Sunday.
But that's not what the campaign contribution records show, according to the website OpenSecrets.org. There are wild inconsistencies in the way the Rauner's campaign contributions are reported. Some are from Bruce Rauner, some from Diana Rauner, some from Bruce and Diana Rauner.
But the records show that between 1990 and 2008 there were $232,875 in federal contributions, made in Bruce Rauner's name, to groups including the DNC ($40,000), the DCCC ($25,000) and Markey ($4,600). Also during that period Bruce Rauner gave to the Illinois Republican Party ($35,000), the Republican National Committee ($78,500) and Republican committees in New York, Missouri, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Diana Rauner, in separate listings, gave $91,400 to both parties although hers were primarily to Democrats, including Barack Obama's 2004 Senate campaign ($2,000), the DCCC ($25,000) and the Our Common Values political action committee affiliated with Emanuel ($5,000).
Rauner insisted, however, "That's my wife. We have a joint checking account. I've given to four Democrats. The other stuff is my wife.
"I'm one of the biggest funders of Republicans in this state, by a lot, and the Cato Institute, the Club for Growth, the Americans for Prosperity."
In a separate accounting of contributions reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections, the Rauners have given more than $1.8 million, mostly to Republicans. But over the years, Bruce Rauner gave $250,000 to Claypool in his races for the Cook County Board, and $50,000 to former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's campaign in 2003.
Rauner acknowledges he made contributions to Democrats Claypool, Daley, Emanuel and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, but says that's it.
"I've given to four Democrats: Emanuel, Daley, Ed Rendell because he was head of the DNC and he was willing to take on the teachers' unions when he was in Philadelphia and I wanted a national guy who was a Democrat and would do battle, and the other one is Forrest Claypool, who was running against John Stroger for Cook County (Board chair). Stroger was not a good guy. Claypool is honest and unfortunately he's a Democrat, but there's no Republicans willing to run in Cook County," Rauner said.
Meanwhile, in another campaign oddity, records show that Rauner has given to two of his three opponents for the Republican nomination for governor. In 2008, he gave $500 to the campaign fund of Dan Rutherford, then a state senator. He also gave $1,000 to Sen. Kirk Dillard's campaign fund that year.
Now, however, Rauner attacks Rutherford, Dillard and the third candidate, Sen. Bill Brady, because he said he is "the one person in this race who never has taken and never will take a donation from a government union boss. That's a conflict of interest to the taxpayers."
Daley fallout. Bill Daley's withdrawal from the Democratic race for governor is, of course, good news for Gov. Pat Quinn, who not only doesn't have a major opponent now but won't have to spend money on an expensive primary election.
It may also be good news for Rutherford, Dillard and Brady.
With no Democratic primary race, some normally Democratic voters, particularly union members, may be persuaded to take Republican ballots in the primary election to vote for anyone but Rauner, who has been railing against "union bosses" for months and is the frontrunner in the GOP race. It's all perfectly legal in Illinois, and it's happened before.
For now there's little reason, aside from possible local races, to take a Democratic ballot. It appears that none of the Democrats running for statewide office will have a challenger in the March primary.
Daley's money. Here's a sign of Daley's limited reach: Not only did he spend little time in downstate Illinois during his short gubernatorial campaign, he got virtually no campaign contributions from south of Interstate 80. Of the $1.1 million he had raised, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections, $710,719 of it came from within Illinois and $530,219 of that came from the city of Chicago.
Daley raised more money from donors in Virginia ($54,000) than he did from Champaign, Urbana, Danville, Bloomington, Normal, Decatur, Springfield, Peoria, Rockford, Charleston, Mattoon or Belleville, Collinsville and Edwardsville combined ($1,000).
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.