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BGA looks at Pritzker’s charitable giving

Thursday, Feb 8, 2018

* From the Better Government Association

Billionaire JB Pritzker is the wealthiest candidate ever to run for Illinois governor and likely the most philanthropic, laying claim to at least $152 million in donations in recent years to children’s programs, universities, hospitals, a state Holocaust museum and much more.

Some of those donations have gone to causes tied to politicians and social activists now endorsing Pritzker’s campaign. Also In late 2016, he gave $250,000 to the non-profit bankrolling restoration of the governor’s mansion in Springfield, the same residence Pritzker soon after began campaigning to occupy.

Pritzker’s largesse is a major selling point of his bid for governor. But a Better Government Association examination shows that charity comes at little real cost to the candidate himself but considerable expense to federal and state treasuries.

Records show Pritzker has funded his charitable giving almost exclusively with inherited proceeds, much of it filtered through offshore tax havens and then deposited in a tax-exempt nonprofit he controls, the Pritzker Family Foundation.

The result is that Pritzker’s philanthropy, and any accolades that go with it, have been bankrolled with what is essentially found money. He did little to earn the proceeds and paid no taxes on the bulk of it before giving it away.

Pritzker’s record as a philanthropist is a central element in a campaign that asks Illinois voters to put him in charge of their tax money. In ads and speeches, he stresses how he has used his money to do good and make a difference.

But the complete story is more complex. Most people who make charitable donations do so out of earnings or savings on which they have already paid taxes. Pritzker, on the other hand, did no work for most of the money he has given away or pay taxes on it.

Go read the whole thing. Pritzker has basically admitted doing this for a while, saying he doesn’t pocket money from overseas family trusts and donates it to charity. But the BGA story is another, less, um, charitable, way of looking at it.

* Pritzker campaign response…

JB is very proud of his work with charitable causes across Illinois. Everything from expanding school breakfast programs to 235,000 low-income kids, to helping create a non-profit technology incubator that’s created over 7,000 jobs, to standing up for wrongly convicted men and women behind bars and building a museum that every year teaches 60,000 Illinois kids and teachers to stand up to hate.

The fact is the trusts referenced in today’s story were set up generations ago by relatives of JB, but it was JB who made the decision that all distributions made should be given entirely to charity. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to support meaningful programs across Illinois.

The suggestion that JB’s commitment of countless of hours of time and millions of dollars in support to these organizations is not genuine, and even worse, questioning the sincerity of the motives of people supporting his campaign like Barbara Bowman and Holocaust survivors who personally worked with JB to build the museum is not only incorrect, it’s insulting.

…Adding… Back to the BGA story

Pritzker has played a major fundraising role for construction of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center museum in Skokie, and his foundation donated $9.9 million to the effort. Two Holocaust survivors, leaders of the drive to build the museum, appear in another Pritzker campaign ad titled “Standing Up to Hate.”

Slayen said the donations and endorsements reflect long standing relationships and shared interests, not political tit-for-tat.

“To be clear, the implication you’re making is both ridiculous and offensive,” Pritzker’s spokeswoman said. “And if you are seriously asking if Holocaust survivors, a champion for early childhood education, and a decades long public servant are trading their endorsements for charitable contributions then the answer is unequivocally no.”

* The Pritzker campaign would like you to see their full response…

And if you are seriously asking if Holocaust survivors, a champion for early childhood education, and a decades long public servant are trading their endorsements for charitable contributions then the answer is unequivocally no. It is incredibly insulting to the lives these people have led and the impact that they’ve had on their communities to even make such an accusation. We are honestly dumbfounded that an organization like the BGA, which again, has received significant contributions from JB’s Foundation, would attempt to connect nonexistent dots.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

26 Comments
  1. - Rocky Rosi - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:30 am:

    JB is a good person and a very kind man but I think the tax issue and FBI tapes will be to much to overcome. Should he step aside for the greater good of the party. Thoughts?


  2. - PJ - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:30 am:

    Pritzker message team is understandably a bit overworked right now. But some of these responses suck.

    You’re gonna come after the Better Government Association for impugning the motives of Holocaust survivors? Hush. That’s not at all what they said or implied, and going on the offensive here is dumb. The first two paragraphs were all you needed.


  3. - Sugar Corn - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:31 am:

    What the heck does this have to do with “Better Government”?

    Still waiting for BGA to examine some of Rauner’s GOVERNMENT practices. (I know, they really took him to task about his schedule. Ouch!)

    Come one guys

    -Stuart Levine, GTCR & TRS contracts
    -Barney’s Warehouse shady leases
    -Blind Trust lies
    -Outsourcing health insurance management
    -QUINCY vets home
    …The list goes on!

    How disappointing that BGA has been so SOFT on Rauner — maybe in light of his past charitable donations to their work. Erodes their credibility.


  4. - Actual Red - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:32 am:

    For better or for for worse, this is pretty standard practice.

    My real “problem” with Pritzker’s charitable giving is that he doesn’t have any other record to point to.


  5. - My Button is Broke... - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:33 am:

    There are lots of unknowns about Pritzker’s money and questions should be asked. But the statement that he paid no taxes on the money before giving it away seems to miss the point.

    If someone earns $500,000 in a given year and then donates $30,000 to charity, they are going to take a deduction for that charitable contribution, meaning they aren’t paying income taxes on that $30,000. That doesn’t require a fancy accountant. Is the BGA insinuating that people should pay income taxes on money they donate to charity?


  6. - Grand Avenue - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:39 am:

    After exciting attacks like the toilets & the Blago tapes, if people want to go after JB they need to up their oppo game. This is boring.


  7. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:41 am:

    ===That’s not at all what they said or implied===

    But they did try to get two survivors to talk about why they appeared in the ad and then ended up writing…

    “Pritzker has played a major fundraising role for construction of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center museum in Skokie, and his foundation donated $9.9 million to the effort. Two Holocaust survivors, leaders of the drive to build the museum, appear in another Pritzker campaign ad titled ‘Standing Up to Hate.’”


  8. - Whatever - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:48 am:

    I wonder where the BGA gets its claim that JB is the wealthiest candidate? Based on the very thin reed that the Pritzker family members are supposedly the beneficiaries of a grandfather provision that lets them avoid taxes on trusts created before the law as changed to close the loophole the trusts used, the fact that JB will not release even the first two pages of his federal returns, indications that his income is not as high as people would expect from the wealth he supposedly has, and his claim that he and his trusts pay a lot of tax, I suspect that he has a lot of income from the trusts, but he really doesn’t own the assets or have any claim to them or even to all of their income, and that the assets will remain in the trusts forever and their income go to someone else designated by the trust instruments after JB passes on, completely outside his control. So he has a good income, and will for life, but no wealth he can call his own other than what he has saved from the income. And he can’t disclose anything about the trusts because he may not know what is actually going on in the trusts (unlike a certain other candidate’s blind trust), there may be an agreement or provision in the trust that bars him from making any disclosures, and his relatives would scream like crazy if he did disclose anything that affected them.


  9. - Retired Educator - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:48 am:

    So we are supposed to say that money is tainted? What would those groups be like if he hadn’t helped? Come on folks at least give the guy credit for helping. There are a lot of very rich people who wouldn’t help at all. You can paint it anyway you want, but the fact is that over the years he has really tried to do the right thing.


  10. - walker - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:50 am:

    So people would rather Pritzker not give away his inherited wealth to charity?


  11. - Amaco - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:50 am:

    Meh. This is not as bad as the headline. You can’t pick your parents. The implication of the article is that at age 18 he should have unwound all the financial planning his family did for him and started earning a salary on the square at 9-5 job so that he fit in to the BGA “good government” model. That’s not the way the world works.

    This type of article is a waste of the BGA brand. They get some extra credibility because of their previous work and it would be nice if they used it to actually investigate the numerous shady dealings between people already in office, at all levels, both parties.


  12. - Shytown - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:57 am:

    This might be one of the BGA’s biggest nothingburgers. So he took proceeds from offshore accounts and donated them to charity. OK. Next.


  13. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 10:58 am:

    ===the wealthiest candidate ever to run for Illinois governor===

    Yes, but which Illinois Governor earned the most wealth while in office? Len Small? Otto Kerner? And Rauner’s private business seems to be doing quite well during his term. I assume the BGA is still working on that investigation.


  14. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:06 am:

    It is all nitpicking. Do these people work or is this being done a part of there gov job.


  15. - CatAttack - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:06 am:

    Seems that this quote is pretty informative:

    “We are honestly dumbfounded that an organization like the BGA, which again, has received significant contributions from JB’s Foundation, would attempt to connect nonexistent dots,” Slayen said.

    Translation: “Wait, but we paid you…you’re not supposed to ask us questions??”


  16. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:09 am:

    ==How disappointing that BGA has been so SOFT on Rauner — maybe in light of his past charitable donations to their work. Erodes their credibility.==

    Sugar corn, what is the big surprise? Andy Shaw and Bruce Rauner are buddies, and have been for some time now. The BGA has hit the Rauner admin a couple of times, so they aren’t the IPI but they aren’t the sun-times edit page either. You shouldn’t expect them to go after him like they do other Illinois pols.


  17. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:14 am:

    –Yes, but which Illinois Governor earned the most wealth while in office? Len Small? Otto Kerner? –

    Has to be Small. He was taking down big scores as state treasurer even before he became the governor during most of Prohibition. The dude definitely knew the value of his power to pardon bootleggers — hundreds of them.

    Kerner’s race track stock options were very small potatoes by comparison.


  18. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:21 am:

    “You’re gonna come after the Better Government Association for impugning the motives of Holocaust survivors? Hush. That’s not at all what they said or implied…”

    Actually that’s exactly what’s implied. The section of the article on where his money goes started with this:

    “Records of Pritzker’s foundation from 2002 through 2016, the latest year available, suggest a distinct overlap between his political aspirations and his charitable giving.”

    They then went on to list the donations made and their connections to his political aspirations. BGA chose to put his Holocaust Museum donations and his Erickson donations in this context.

    So if I understand the BGA story properly, Pritzker spent 10 years trying to build a Holocaust Museum so he could put two survivors in his future political ads. It’s absurd and outrageous.


  19. - SaulGoodman - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:23 am:

    The most “dumbfounding” piece of this story is this quote from TeamPritzker:

    “We are honestly dumbfounded that an organization like the BGA, which again, has received significant contributions from JB’s Foundation, would attempt to connect nonexistent dots,” Slayen said.”

    Seriously? You’re “dumbfounded” that an organization is doing an investigative story after you wrote that organization a check? I get that TeamPritzker thought that they had paid enough to prevent the BGA from doing anything that may hurt JB, but that’s not really how this is supposed to work.


  20. - Sugar Corn - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:44 am:

    ==You shouldn’t expect [BGA] to go after [Rauner] like they do other Illinois pols.==

    I don’t. But they should stop pretending to be above the fray.

    Since they appear to have a serious conflict - they should refocus or own up to it with BLARING DISCLAIMERS about their “preferences”.


  21. - Sugar Corn - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 11:58 am:

    Lester Holt, I didn’t say it was a surprise BGA is soft on Rauner. It’s a disappointment. Just to be clear…


  22. - Downstate - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 12:07 pm:

    As a staunch Republican, I find the criticism of JB’s donation of appreciated stock to be appalling. This is a standard method for people to give donations of land, stock and other appreciated assets for charitable giving.

    I’m involved with two different non-profits who could basically close their doors except for individuals giving appreciated assets as a donation.


  23. - Chicagonk - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 12:46 pm:

    The statement from JB’s campaign regarding his contributions to the BGA is cringe-worthy. Do they expect the BGA to act differently since they donated to them?


  24. - Anon0091 - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 12:52 pm:

    “The statement from JB’s campaign regarding his contributions to the BGA is cringe-worthy. Do they expect the BGA to act differently since they donated to them?”


  25. - Anon0091 - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 12:54 pm:

    Premature post. Sorry. What I was going to type is I’m pretty sure you’re missing the point. There were no political dots to connect with the BGA donations any more than there were political dots to connect with the other charitable gifts.


  26. - Truthteller - Thursday, Feb 8, 18 @ 5:09 pm:

    Anyone who believes the Nunes memo exonerates Trump of any wrong-doing with Russia will believe Pritzker did something wrong in making these donations.
    And they will be wrong in both instances.
    Bret Stephens’ description of the Nunes report, a nothingburger without even a bun, is apt here


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