Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich currently sits in a federal prison in Colorado. He was sentenced to 14 years after being convicted of attempting to sell Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Multibillionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker is a 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate. His long-standing relationship with Blagojevich was never a good thing for his campaign, but it’s beginning to haunt him even more now that new FBI wiretaps have been released.
The Chicago Tribute obtained recordings of conversations in which Blagojevich and Pritzker discuss candidates to fill Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. One of these candidates was Pritzker himself, but he’s heard asking the former governor to consider appointing him state treasurer instead.
“Ooh, interesting,” Blagojevich responded. “Let’s think about that. You interested in that?”
“Yeah,” Pritzker answered, “that’s the one I would want.”
Newly elected President Obama was in the process of building his administration, and the appointments he was making was creating a lot of potential state job openings in Illinois. It was rumored Alexi Giannoulias could be vacating his current post as state treasurer to take a position in the administration.
Blagojevich mentioned an attorney general spot could open up in Illinois if he decided to appoint Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat.
“Are you a lawyer?” Blagojevich asked.
“Yeah,” Pritzker replied.
“There’s an AG that I appoint.”
“Ooh, that’s interesting,” Pritzker said.
“I mean I’m not promising,” Blagojevich replied. “I’m just saying these are all scenarios.”
Throughout the course of several calls that were released, Pritzker can be heard giving his advice on who the governor should appoint to the vacant Senate seat. They also discussed more intimate matters such as the financial troubles of a bank run by Pritzker’s sister, and the legal issues surrounding Blagojevich’s administration. Blagojevich and Pritzker sound relaxed during their conversations, indicating they are quite comfortable with each other.
After the audio was released, Pritzker’s campaign tried to downplay the relationship between him and the corrupt governor. Campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen responded to the Chicago Tribune with a statement.
“There was nothing untoward about J.B. Pritzker’s conversations and throughout his career he has considered different ways he could serve the people of Illinois. The record is clear that Rod Blagojevich was having dozens of conversations with both elected officials and private citizens, including members of President Obama’s transition team, which is why he is currently in prison. J.B. has been a proud supporter of hundreds of progressive and Democratic leaders and organizations in Illinois and across the country, especially those who have been supporters of early childhood education,”
But their statement contradicts what we know about the pair’s history; it’s a friendship that goes back at least two decades. Pritzker lost a congressional race in 1998. Knowing it would benefit him financially, Blagojevich, who was in Congress at the time, was thinking ahead and made a move to become close with the multibillionaire. He spoke out publically in support of Pritzker after the loss and predicted that he would have a very bright political future.
“We are going to hear a lot more from J.B. Pritzker, because ultimately, in the long haul, quality will emerge, (as will) J.B.’s knowledge of issues and his commitment to those issues. This was a good first start and I think J.B. has a tremendous future. Remember, Abraham Lincoln didn’t win his first election and Mario Cuomo lost several races before he got elected. For J.B., this is only the beginning,” the future governor said in a May 1998 Tribune profile of Pritzker.
By his own admission, Pritzker has always had a strong interest in holding public office. He found an ally in Blagojevich who was successfully working his way up the Illinois political ladder. Between 2002 and 2006 the Pritzker family donated at least $140,000 to Blagojevich’s gubernatorial campaigns.
In 2006, Pritzker donated $500,000 to help Governor Blagojevich rebuild a fire-damaged Pilgrim Baptist Church. Later that year Pritzker was named the chief fundraiser for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center Blagojevich had vowed to build.
Prosecutors used wiretaps during Blagojevich’s trial in 2010 as evidence he was shopping around the vacated Senate seat. The Chicago Tribune previously released wiretaps where Blagojevich discussed with his staff appointing Pritzker to the Senate seat because it could help him obtain a high-paying job leading a private foundation after his term in office.
In a recorded call with then-adviser Doug Scofield on Nov. 11, 2008, Blagojevich said Pritzker could easily raise “10, 15, 20 million dollars.”
“I betcha J.B. can raise me money like that,” Blagojevich said. “If I can get J.B. to do somethin’ like that, is it worth, ah, givin’ him the Senate seat? Incidentally, he, he asked me for it. Don’t repeat that.”
Illinois has been tarnished by corrupt politicians, trying to advance themselves with no regard for the people they were elected to represent. Pritzker’s campaign will continue to deny his close relationship with the former governor. This newly released audio provides even more evidence that wealthy businessman J.B. Pritzker was a key figure in Rod Blagojevich’s inner circle for two decades. Pritzker provided him with financial support for political favors in return, and they maintained a friendship until the time of Blagojevich’s arrest. Republican and Democrat voters in Illinois need to stand firmly against J.B. Pritzker and the culture of corruption he represents.