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Question of the day

Monday, Feb 28, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Background is here if you need it. Gov. Pritzker faced reporters today and was asked whether, in the wake of the BGA’s new report about his blind trust, it was time to come up with another way to avoid further conflicts of interest

Well, there are no conflicts of interest because, number one, we have a blind trust in place; number two, there are a variety of safeguards even beyond that that makes sure that I have no conflicts of interest. So that if it turned out that there was any profit that might be made from some company that was conflicted, and again, I don’t, I am not involved in making any investment decisions. But if we found out that I was, then, obviously, as I’ve said, we would donate those dollars to charity. But as far as that, during my term as governor, again, I have avoided all conflicts of interest because I have no involvement in any businesses.

* But now that he knows about the Centene investment by his blind trust, what does he do about it?

I have no ability to direct anybody to make an investment or to disinvest. What I can tell you is that we have safeguards in place so there are no conflicts of interest.

* But he did sign off on a statement of economic interest, and Centene is clearly listed

By law, I have to sign a statement of economic interest. I think that’s a terrific thing. The state should keep that in place. I sign that every year. There are no values associated with any of the items on that. I get it, I go to the signature page and I sign it every single year.

* When did he learn about his blind trust’s investment in Centene?

I only learned of that literally because a reporter called last week from the BGA.

* Pritzker was then asked about his administration’s pushback against a bill sponsored by Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) that would’ve mandated set state clawback amounts from companies like Centene. The audio gets a bit crackly at that point, but here’s the response

That’s kind of a ridiculous connection. First of all, Centene had a contract with the state of Illinois before I became governor. It was the prior governor that signed that contract, that contract went into place before I got into office. And so there’s no, there’s just no relationship in any way. I don’t know quite how to respond to it because again, I’ve divorced myself entirely from making investments, knowing anything about the investments, the amounts of investments, etc. All conflicts of interest are taken care of by virtue of the blind trust and the safeguards that we put in place.

The governor’s office was more pointed with its response last week

First, existing law provides the authority for the state to claw back excessive profits. … As a result of the Medical Loss Ratio, HFS is currently estimating the department will recoup approximately $220 million from the MCOs in 2020. This will take place after the 18-month bill cycle for 2020 concludes later this year. … The legislation you are referencing would have violated federal requirements and put tens of millions of dollars of federal funding at risk – raising costs for Illinois taxpayers.

* Back to the presser. Did the blind trust fund make a mistake by investing in a state contractor?

[Crosstalk] When you say a mistake, I think it would be a mistake if there was some conflict of interest, or if I was engaged in it in any way. I was not and there is not.

Please pardon all transcription errors.

* The news media absolutely relishes opportunities to poke holes in a candidate’s self-imposed reforms which go above and beyond state law. The Tribune in particular skewered gubernatorial candidate Glenn Poshard for allegedly breaching his own self-imposed campaign fundraising rules in 1998. Poshard was made to look like the corrupt guy when it was George Ryan who ended up in prison. Click here and here for a little history if that was before your time.

On the other hand, we live in the real world, and, like it or not, candidates have no choice but to deal with the reality of the news business as it stands. And, as the saying goes, if you’re explaining you’re losing in politics, and there was a whole lot of explaining today.

* The Question: How would you rate the governor’s response today? Make sure to explain your answer.

…Adding… Irvin campaign…

Just days after an investigation found that Governor J.B. Pritzker has been personally profiting off an investment in a company that holds one of the largest state contracts, Pritzker doubled down to reporters today refusing to admit the blatant conflict of interest and claimed he knew nothing about the investment despite making a sworn statement that he had examined the document and it was correct.

“It is baffling that Governor Pritzker wants voters to believe he knew nothing about the Centene investment despite signing the very document listing the company, and attesting - under penalty of perjury - that he had examined the document and that it was correct,” Irvin for Illinois campaign spokesperson Eleni Demertzis said. “The governor may think he’s ended this issue at today’s press conference, but there are more questions to be answered like how much money he has personally profited off of this investment and why he’s now claiming he knew nothing about a document he personally signed.”

Pritzker also refused to acknowledge publicly known facts that his own administration blocked legislation in 2021 that would ‘claw back’ the skyrocketing profits of MCOs due to the covid-19 pandemic. Pritzker said today those claims were “totally ridiculous” even though his own administration worked with the MCOs reaping record profits to push back on the legislation.

Pritzker also attempted to deflect blame by claiming his predecessor signed the contract with Centene. But it was the Pritzker administration that ignored concerns from bipartisan legislators, foster parents and public service agencies and forced DCFS youth in care to transition to managed care. The company that held the DCFS managed care contract? Centene.

       

49 Comments
  1. - Fav Human - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 1:53 pm:

    He did the best he could. And in fact, Centene is not only huge, they are one of the more efficient ones doing that sort of thing. That is why they are huge.

    But I do love a good cheap shot :)


  2. - OneMan - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 1:55 pm:

    Too much explaining. When you have to explain that much it is a problem even if it isn’t a problem.


  3. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 1:59 pm:

    “If you tell the truth, you won’t have to remember anything.”

    Mark Twain.


  4. - fs - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 1:59 pm:

    So the Governor is stating that doesn’t review the documents, or at least some documents, he puts his signature to? Is there not usually a line where the person states that they have reviewed the information provided?

    I understand it’s a blind trust, but in terms of disclosures it’s really not. The information being on a document that you sign puts you on notice of that information. It’s your obligation to read it.


  5. - Perrid - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 1:59 pm:

    Vultures are going to circle no matter what. Dude did everything he could to divest. Asking him to give instructions to the blind trust basically ruins the point of the “blind” trust.


  6. - Anchors Away - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:00 pm:

    Explanation was fine. It’s a confusing issue which I actually thinks helps JB bc the attack then has to rely on the idea that somehow the Governor is trying to profit off of being governor and I’m sorry but I just don’t think the idea that our billionaire governor went to the trouble of running for Governor to make money off of state contracts is just not going to sound believable to voters.

    No matter how hard the Griffin team tries to pound on it - I don’t think this is going to be a top hit.


  7. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:01 pm:

    equivocating never looks good


  8. - Not again - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:04 pm:

    100% the wrong way to handle, I would explain why but I will wait for the Jackson St LLC check to cash before I do that.


  9. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:06 pm:

    It’s barely a “C-“

    The point of the exercise is having a blind trust allows a firewall to any real or perceived conflict of interests or monetary windfalls to large sums of monies becoming even larger.

    That parameters can always be altered. There’s no one way to have any blind trust.

    “I was disappointed to see where my declared interests are and the interconnection that exists.

    I’ll release shortly, my instructions to those controlling my interests, much stricter parameters to their work and instructions in investments that have very direct or indirect working with Illinois.

    It’ll be a considerable more work for these managers, but if it’s too much work for them to meet these new rules I’m sure I can find another manager willing to deal with hundreds of millions and the fees that can be charged to manage this trust.”

    Gotta/Kinda eat it, own it, but also clearly show a purposeful want to correct it.

    It’s a “C-“ today.


  10. - Norseman - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:15 pm:

    Pritzker has never been a great communicator. Unless someone finds the blind trust is not so blind, I basically think this is a nonissue.

    The conflict that I would rather see addressed is his continuing supplementation of his State staff salary.


  11. - New Day - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:22 pm:

    I suppose he could have said, “which part of BLIND do you not understand?????”


  12. - Annonin' - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:24 pm:

    JB did fine
    Speaking of fines and media folo up maybe someone could call the CA courthouse to see if the Confessed Congressman (AKA LaHood) has paid his fine and “loan” and the timetable for ComEd and the payment their “fine”


  13. - OneMan - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:24 pm:

    == Asking him to give instructions to the blind trust basically ruins the point of the “blind” trust. ==

    You can give guidelines (and should) to a “blind trust” and keep it a blind trust. I would kind of hope that you would to some degree, like don’t invest in any Trump real estate deals or stay away from companies that fix roads.


  14. - Back to the Future - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:25 pm:

    D
    His performance was embarrassing. He sounded as he was guilty of something and did not take responsibility for the situation he created.
    In terms of his comment about donating the profits to Charity, he should skip going down charitable write off path that would save him some money in taxes and write a check to the state.


  15. - Blue Dog - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:33 pm:

    As a side note, the state better immediately correct the latest statement of economic interest form or it will cripple volunteer boards across the state.


  16. - Ducky LaMoore - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:35 pm:

    His response was pretty… uh… meh. I am not sure of all the parameters of the irrevocable trust contract that he signed. He may not be able to make any changes. Typically though, you can “modify by consent” in an irrevocable trust with the consent being that of all parties. Otherwise, he would have to go to court to get it changed. Either way, there is no stepping out of this to save face.


  17. - Raising Kane - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:37 pm:

    There just is no good answer to that question which is why he struggled. He should have just direct the trust not to invest in state contractors. I’m sure he has told them not to invest in other politically sensitive entities. And he should sell off the centene stock immediately so he doesn’t get tagged with any issues they may have moving forward. The Governor wasn’t pulling a Blago scam, it was a mistake….acknowledge it, fix it and move on.


  18. - Mad Hatter - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:40 pm:

    See David Axlerod.
    Headwinds for Pritzker reelection coming


  19. - Cool Papa Bell - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:40 pm:

    C - But trying to explain this is a losing exercise in the first place.

    =but also clearly show a purposeful want to correct it.=

    I agree here. He needed something like “I’ve directed my blind trust to stop making investments in single companies or stocks. Moving forward they are only to invest in broad based mutual funds or indexes.”

    Your still explaining but there is a solution that works to distance yourself from this happening again.


  20. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:42 pm:

    This here…

    ===The Governor wasn’t pulling a Blago scam, it was a mistake….===

    That’s it. There is nothing nefarious, it’s not a scam or a scheme, and the only reason I gave it a “barely C-“ is, while there is no real good way after it’s disclosed to answer, I didn’t read or get an impression of “moving forward” to prevent this from being possible.

    Show contrition, show how it can/will be different “tomorrow”, and move on.


  21. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:43 pm:

    =As a side note, the state better immediately correct the latest statement of economic interest form or it will cripple volunteer boards across the state=

    Absolutely, imagine you are a selfless person looking to make ad difference in your local community, you consider running for local village, park, library boards. Then you realize that you have to publicly disclose assets and debts - no thanks!


  22. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:44 pm:

    ===Headwinds for Pritzker===

    Haven’t heard a soul say it’s was gonna be easy for Pritzker, but looking at the field, there are easier opponents Pritzker could face.


  23. - natty lite - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:47 pm:

    I trust Northern Trust to administer the trust in a trustworthy manner.

    Here’s a question I’ve been curious about: the Governor seems to be able to transfer $20 million or $50 million to his campaign accounts very easily, and presumably he isn’t doing so on the Venmo app … does his access to those huge amounts of cash come from the blind trust, and if so, what’s the process for initiating those transfers? (Presumably that money comes from some other account that he controls directly, which I assume he is not using to day trade on etrade.)

    Note, all of these somewhat ridiculous questions could have been avoided if he had just bought Treasuries or certificates of deposit. Are the equity returns really worth it to this billionaire?

    Personally this all seems extremely weak, and I agree with Norseman that the bigger conflict is the staff pay supplements.


  24. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:48 pm:

    = show how it can/will be different “tomorrow”, and move on=

    Then tell the trust administrator going forward to avoid investing in entities that have state contracts - but JB did not do that. So tomorrow is just like today. Groundhog day.


  25. - Long year - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:48 pm:

    Let me know when Irvin does a press conference. Until then any criticism from them rings a little hallow. Seems like that guy has a few things he needs to answer for, but it’s hard to be asked questions when you’re not available for any.


  26. - here we go - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:49 pm:

    I think the Governor is fine on this. The larger issue is DCFS, which needs reform now,


  27. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:50 pm:

    ===Let me know when Irvin does a press conference===

    lol. Right.

    Anyway, this isn’t about Irvin, unless it’s his oppo, of course.


  28. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:55 pm:

    ===but JB did not do that===

    I know I have no idea what the governor did or did not tell his administrators, I do know publicly the governor didn’t address any steps going forward, so…


  29. - New Day - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 2:59 pm:

    “I get it, I go to the signature page and I sign it every single year.”

    Sounds pretty clear that he doesn’t read these things in an attempt to keep the blind trust blind. Isn’t this what we want? Don’t we want this rich guy to be as ignorant as humanly possible about where his money is invested so he can avoid these conflicts? Isn’t this really a problem because of the Statement of Economic Interests that forces him to partially unblind the Trust?

    I think Rich made a great point. The politicians who get the most grief aren’t the ones who completely flout every ethical standard on the planet like Trump. They are the people who attempt to do the right thing and then are judged by the media against some bogus exalted standard.

    And no, JB shouldn’t issue instructions to his blind trust.


  30. - Unconventional wisdom - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:01 pm:

    There may be some skullduggery in this but I doubt it.

    As far as am concerned Pritzker is innocent unless evidence mor than this comes up.


  31. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:03 pm:

    What a non-issue.


  32. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:06 pm:

    ==He did the best he could.==

    Agree. If he sounds defensive or is “overly explaining” it is, in part, because the reporters keep asking the same questions expecting different answers. Also, if anyone violated the blind trust, it was the “reporter” at BGA who told telling the Gov what was in it…

    The short, to the point answer: “It’s a blind trust, I don’t know what is in it. At the end of the year when I have to sign that economic interest statement, I don’t read it because that would make it no longer blind. You told me one company that is in it, but I don’t know how much or even if the trust still owns it. It is a blind trust.” After that, he should answer every question: “It is a blind trust. I don’t know.”

    If anything, the law should be changed so that the economic interest statement for someone with a blind trust doesn’t have to sign a form that reveals what is in the blind trust.


  33. - Bruce( no not him) - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:11 pm:

    Let me see if I got this straight.
    His money is in a blind trust, he can’t tell the trust what to do.
    The trust bought Centene.
    He can’t tell the trust to sell it, it’s a blind trust, he can’t tell them what to do.
    So what is the Governor supposed to do?


  34. - Robert W. Bugswell III - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:12 pm:

    I’m guessing those folks who had the most issues with the Governor’s response had virtually no concerns when the former guy reaped rewards from the DC Post Office hotel in violation of the Emoluments Clause, the secret service having to pay the Trump organization for lodging, golf carts, etc. for the endless golf excursions at Trump properties, the proposal to house the G7 Conference at a Trump location and Ivanka shilling her shoe line while working on behalf of the White House. It may depend on whose ox is being gored.


  35. - Long year - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:15 pm:

    Rich, you’ve been in this game long enough to know it’s his oppo. Did Darren Bailey have his friends in the GA do a presser the same day it came out? Come on.


  36. - A Jack - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:21 pm:

    Did anyone ever check up on Rauner to see if he really donated money he made on investments related to state contracts? I am just curious because I suspect that now that Rauner is out of the public eye he pocketed the profits.


  37. - TheInvisibleMan - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:34 pm:

    The stock has been performing very well since this story broke. A gain of about 4% in just a week. Far better than the market as a whole. I suppose I should thank BGA for the ‘insider information’ they provided, since that seems to be how they think this works.

    Perhaps JB could have turned it around and asked if anyone at BGA deliberately purchased any of this stock immediately before running the story? Or if all of their reporters are also in a blind trust. That might seem too antagonistic to some, but if you don’t want this all on the table, don’t open the door.

    What I dislike about this attempt more than anything, is that BGA has to start with the assumption that the average voter is dumb when it comes to how complicated financial situations actually work. That’s the only way this ‘lands’ with anyone.

    I greatly dislike attempts to gain favor by taking advantage of ignorance. There’s a word for that I think… grif… fin? No that’s not it… ter, yes that’s it. Grif-ter.

    Ah well, I suppose if I get too bored I can always go peruse senator Rezins statement of economic interests. That’s always a fun read.


  38. - TJ - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:35 pm:

    Oh, so Republicans care about the integrity of blind trusts now again?


  39. - JS Mill - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:36 pm:

    I give the response a “C”.

    This is complex issue and any explanation is going to be a bit messy and given the nature of people these days, it will go over most people’s heads.

    JB’s point about not directing the trust in any way is correct, but few will understand that as seen by some comments here. That is the kind of thing that would actually create a conflict of interest. Nuance is always a loser.

    =Just days after an investigation =

    Irvin is absurd. This is the guy that claims to personally raid crack houses (more likely meth these days and in the last say 20 years btw) and claims he called out the national guard. When you tell whoppers like that you lost me on day 1.


  40. - fs - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:41 pm:

    == Let me see if I got this straight.
    His money is in a blind trust, he can’t tell the trust what to do.
    The trust bought Centene.
    He can’t tell the trust to sell it, it’s a blind trust, he can’t tell them what to do.
    So what is the Governor supposed to do?==

    Not allow an agency under his control to sign off on contracts that involve companies he’s invested in? Or, as has been stated, adjust the parameters of his trust, which can be done if the parties agree?

    Do we know who the trustee is who is making the decisions? I would imagine (hope?) it’s an unrelated person. But is it?


  41. - zatoichi - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:44 pm:

    I understand ‘too much explaining’. At the same time do any of the reporters who asked umpteen variations of the same ‘maybe, could be, seems like’ question have any legit proof of unethical behavior. If not, aren’t they just bloviating and fishing for a gotcha story?


  42. - Tired Teacher - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:46 pm:

    As soon as we hear the GOP and the BGA complain about the business practices of Trump and Rainer while in office we can be concerned. Until then…


  43. - Bad performance / limited impact - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:49 pm:

    C+ because you had to read between the lines to understand he was saying that he just signs the trust statement of interest so he can ensure no knowledge of what is in the trust. But yeah also if you promise nothing you don’t get hassled by the media and that is weak.


  44. - sal-says - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 3:52 pm:

    Pretty clearly. There is no there there here. (Thats a sentence.)

    Seems like a lot of the ‘press’ is taking the #GQP approach. Keep asking/saying the same thing ova & ova to get their 45 seconds on the 6 & 10 pm broadcasts or a 3″ column.


  45. - sal-says - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 4:02 pm:

    I’d suggest that this line of ‘reporters’ questions(?) border on malfeasance.


  46. - New Day - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 4:10 pm:

    “Do we know who the trustee is who is making the decisions? I would imagine (hope?) it’s an unrelated person. But is it?”

    I think I read that it’s Northern Trust.


  47. - A Guy - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 4:27 pm:

    Hmm. If you can’t direct them not to invest in a conflicted fund,
    you can’t direct them to send the profit to a charity.

    If you can do one, you can do both.


  48. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 7:27 pm:

    ===If you can do one, you can do both.===

    Fair enough. I suspect the Governor will have more chances to extend his remarks on this subject.

    I’m glad the old Rauner crew has more campaign cash to burn this season. I’ve missed you.


  49. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Feb 28, 22 @ 9:25 pm:

    This is a B-, but that’s because this is a tough position to be in.

    The Better Gov folks are elevating this to something that it’s not, they’re treating it like they treated this doozy: https://www.bettergov.org/news/fact-check-how-hands-off-has-rauner-been-with-his-investments/

    The last guy outright lied about having a blind trust:

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-bruce-rauner-finances-met-0122-20150122-story.html

    If Pritzker truly has a blind trust that by itself should be sufficient. Is the response to this great? No. But if he has a blind trust, he literally has no idea what the trust does. Could he have structured it better? Probably, but he created a blind trust.

    The last guy did not create a blind trust and just called what he did a blind trust. Let’s recognize the difference. Pritzker has a blind trust. This probably won’t be enough to sink him but Ken Griffin doesn’t care what happens to anyone else. He wants a win. He wants more money.

    Ken Griffin would let you and your whole family die on the street to save a dollar, and he’s willing to let the promise of “support” cause organizations to drift away from their message and purpose.

    They’re putting Pritzker on the spot for something he has nothing to do with and there’s no real guidance of the best practice for how a billionaire should handle their assets. He set up a blind trust and everyone was happy with that. He set up a — real — blind trust instead of pretending like he did and now we’re changing the rules 3 years into his term because could have structured a — better — blind trust?

    This is a B- because the position that the media is putting him in isn’t a good position to be in, but he shouldn’t be there and some organizations should really wonder if gaining some clout with Ken Griffin is really worth the damage they’re doing with people who would support them because they believe in what the actual mission of the organization is. Don’t be a rented mouth piece for Ken Griffin.


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