Well, yes, it’s not the clearest photo of all time, but that’s because it’s taken from a television screen. But if you wanted a poster for what is wrong with money and politics, this picture will do it.
In the center, and at the podium, is J.B. Pritzker, a candidate running for the Democratic nomination for governor in Illinois. Why is that a problem, after all, shouldn’t anyone who meets the legal requirements to run for office be allowed to?
Absolutely. And the fact that according to Forbes, Pritzker is worth 3.5 billion, nor that his family owns the Hyatt hotel chain. America should be safe for anyone to run for office, regardless of how wealthy they are.
If Pritzker was just a wealthy man who has an interest in politics (he majored in political science at Duke University), there would not be a problem. It wouldn’t necessarily be a problem that his list of friends includes former President Barack Obama or even former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
Here’s where it gets tricky, or maybe just plain disgusting. His friendships are littered with favors being asked and favors being granted. When that happens in politics, it is politely called conflict of interest. In other circles, it is called corrupt.
Shortly after Barack Obama was elected president, the question of filling his Senate seat became a topic of conversation. There would not be an immediate special election, instead the governor of the state, Rod Blagojevich at the time, would make an appointment.
It turned out that Blagojevich’s efforts to “sell” the seat became cause for him to become another Illinois governor to be sent to prison. But J.B. Pritzker was right in the middle of the dealing. According to FBI wiretaps obtained by the Chicago Tribune, the following took place:
J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire businessman with political ambitions, told Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich he was “really not that interested” in the U.S. Senate seat the governor was dealing in late 2008.
Instead, Pritzker offered his own idea: Would Blagojevich make him Illinois treasurer?
“Ooh, interesting,” Blagojevich said during a November 2008 phone call with Pritzker. “Let’s think about that. You interested in that?”
“Yeah,” Pritzker answered, “that’s the one I would want.”
So, Pritzker is not some paragon of virtue running for office who happens to be a billionaire. He is tightly intertwined with politicians and others who make the levers of government move.
The photo shows Illinois Senator Dick Durbin standing next to Pritzker. Durbin has made a name for himself as a liberal, if not progressive, who can work effectively with Republicans. He has been one of the leaders to achieve a bi-partisan solution to immigration issues, and would probably be hailed as a very effective deal-maker if it was not for Donald Trump scuttling his work.
But when it comes to supporting Pritzker against other Democrats running for the gubernatorial nomination, Durbin is tainted. Pritzker has donated at least $25,000 to Durbin campaigns, and it could be far more.
Also next to Pritzker is Illinois’ other Democratic Senator, Tammy Duckworth. She too is a recipient of Pritzker largesse.
Pritzker money is all over Illinois politics, particularly among Democrats and including to a large extent Barack Obama. J.B.’s sister, Penny Pritzker, became Obama’s Secretary of Commerce.
So regardless of what ideas J.B. Pritzker has (he says that he supports a public option for health insurance for Illinois, but the state is virtually bankrupt), this man is not who Democrats who we can respect should be supporting. That’s what’s wrong with the picture, and unfortunately, all over America there are similar photos of “pay-to-play” endorsements.
What can we do? At the very least, express our outrage and consider withholding support.