Lack of transparency catching up with Rauner
In less than a week, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office won a mock transparency award, was threatened with a lawsuit charging the office defied numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and was hit with allegations it violated the state Ethics Act.
On March 16, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) announced that Rauner made the top of its “Dishonorable Mentions” list, an award bestowed on him during the Society’s annual Sunshine Week (March 11 to 17).
The SPG said that Rauner’s office is “well known for taking its time with Freedom of Information Act requests, often taking over a year to respond.”
And in his nomination letter to SPJ, Consultant Erik Abderhalden wrote: "The Illinois Governor's Office is egregious in violation of FOIA law due to their lack of timely response, which is causing great strife to the public seeking the records."
On the legal front, Kirk Allen of the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW) told Prairie State Wire that an ECW lawsuit, which could be filed this week in Cook County, stems in part from the governor’s office first replying that a Feb. 17 FOIA request for first lady Diana Rauner’s email exchanges was too broad. Allen said that the office then failed to include certain email exchanges when on Feb. 28 he narrowed the request down to emails containing, among other words, “abortion,” “HB40” and "liberal Democrat.”
The governor’s office responded to the more limited request with over 1,000 emails, leaving out two key emails Allen had received through other sources.
“We know that they blocked them,” Allen said. “We have these emails containing the same words I asked for over the same time period.”
In a separate action, ECW filed a complaint with the Office of Executive Inspector General on March 13 saying that “Bruce Rauner has given his campaign staff control over policy making decisions and communications from his gubernatorial, state government office and is, concurrently, forcing state government staff to work, against their will on his re-election effort.”
As backdrop, the watchdog group ran a series of stories in early March on its Illinois Leaks website citing Diana Rauner’s role in setting policy for the administration and communicating that policy with political consultants. The stories cover her role in Rauner’s signing the taxpayer funded abortion bill HB40, the bailout of Chicago schools and what Rauner’s response should be to a then anticipated rollback of Obamacare.
ECW obtained an email exchanged dated July 27, 2017, that the group said “provides yet another example of how campaign staff – not state employees – have been running Rauner’s government office, making major policy decisions on behalf of his administration.”
“(Bruce Rauner) has been held back by fear of (President Donald) Trump backlash but I think there is more he can and should say now (in support of Obamacare) to address moderates’ concerns,” Diana Rauner emailed her husband's campaign consultant, (Nachama) Soloveichik, cc’ing her husband’s government-paid communications chief.
Soloveichik responded that Gov. Rauner should publicly oppose Republican efforts in Congress on Obamacare.
“If the gov feels comfortable, I think a statement vowing to protect Medicaid is useful,” Soloveichik wrote. “U are not going to lose Republican votes for that.”
In its awards announcement, the SPJ cite other instances where Rauner has been sued for delaying or blocking the release of information that should be made public.
The SPJ said that the administration has been so bad the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor issued two separate opinions stating Rauner’s office has violated FOIA and asked that it comply by providing the requested records. In their review of FOIA denials, the governor’s office would not even comply with the review process, the SPJ noted.