Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rauschenberger: Hanging a lantern on the DUI or on Kjellander?

Jeff Berkowitz: On or about that time [June 25, 2004], did you approach anybody, some media members, and say that you had some information about Rauschenberger and you would be happy to give it to them and they might want to write about it, and it was negative information.

Bob Kjellander: Not that I recall.

Berkowitz: Why did he [Rauschenberger] get so much support from the editorial boards across the state last time? [why do] you think?

Kjellander: I have no idea.

To his critics, National Republican Committeeman [from Illinois] Bob Kjellander represents all that is wrong with the old, establishment wing of the Illinois Republican Party. They will tell you that Kjellander epitomizes what the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass labeled, a long time ago, the Daley-[George] Ryan Combine. Those who worry about such things as the Combine don’t believe it died when George Ryan left office or even when he was indicted. To them, it continues in the form of high level Democratic and Republican party leaders, officeholders and their cronies who make alliances designed to make money for each other at the expense of good government and good public policy decisions.

So, when former “Fab 5” State Senator Pat O’Malley [who came in 2nd in the 2002 Republican Guv Primary, garnering 29% of the vote to Jim Ryan’s 44%] talks about Bob Kjellander [“KJ”] earning a stupendous $809,000 fee for helping Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich secure four Republican state senate votes to support Hot Rod’s 10 billion dollar pension deal two years ago, Pat is talking about the Combine—at that moment the Blago[D]– KJ[R] Combine.

Kjellander, with whom I have spoken previously and who couldn’t have been more charming in our conversation, denied to me earlier this week that he does “lobbying or legislative work,” and said he didn’t do anything to secure any votes for the Democrats on the infamous [at least in conservative Republican circles] 10 billion dollar pension deal. KJ said his understanding was that when he was hired, “it was presumed that the legislature was about to pass the bill.” KJ said nobody asked [him] for any assistance in passing it.

KJ told me he was hired by Bear Stearns [“BS”] to provide strategic planning and help on how it presented its case to get the brokerage business on the deal from the State. KJ said he worked very hard on the matter, including “probably talking to the folks at BS four or fives times a day for months.” KJ was unable to estimate his total hours worked on the matter because [unlike lawyers] he “does not keep track of [his] hours”. However, he said “it was a very time consuming and very, I mean, it was a very high priority, high visibility issue.” He did concede to me that if we divided his total hours worked into the $809,000 fee, we would “probably” come up with a high hourly rate.

On Monday of this week, Senator Rauschenberger, who has repeatedly called for KJ to step down from his national Republican Committeeman position and lost badly [18 to 1 in the Republican State Central Committee] in his effort last summer to unseat Kjellander, essentially said, “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” This was Steve’s non-declared imitation of Howard Beale in “Network,” a popular movie a score and nine years ago. As in Network, Senator Rauschenberger is hoping, for starters, everyone sticks his head out of a window, on Primary Day—March 21, 2006, declares he is mad as Hell and then runs out of their residence to vote for Steve. If that happens, Senator Rauschenberger, of course, would hope for a repeat in the Novermber, 2006 general election, against the Democrat’s presumptive nominee, Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Senator Steve was reacting to Kjellander’s response to Rauschenberger’s request sent to a “mailing list of potential donors” to give Rauschenberger their thoughts on the Governor’s race. Of course, the Rauschenberger camp says the solicitation to Kjellander was sent because KJ’s name appeared on a large mailing list that Team Rauschenberger used without looking first, at every name solicited. Dan Proft, Spokesman for Team Rauschenberger, emphatically stated that Rauschenberger doesn’t want money from KJ and would return any contributions to KJ, if KJ sent Rauschenberger any. In any case, Kjellander sent back the request to Team Rauschenberger, with no money but with a note that said, “Anybody who gets behind the wheel of a car drunk doesn’t belong in the state senate, much less the Governor’s mansion.”

Rauschenberger construed the KJ response as a threat to intimidate him right out of the race, with the timing perhaps related to Rauschenberger’s expected announcement next week that he is formally getting into the gubernatorial race. Steve said that the DUI, to which KJ alluded, was 10 years ago, and info on the DUI has been mailed on a 3x5 card to 40,000 households in his district, both by the likes of candidates of the Republican Establishment/Combine who opposed Steve in his state senate primaries, and by House Speaker Mike-- and his henchmen, in Rauschenberger’s general election contests.

So, if the DUI is so widely known by the public, what’s Senator Steve’s beef? Well, Rauschenberger seems to think that KJ is trying to bully Rauschy out of the race by implying to others that KJ has more stuff like the DUI that could be distributed to Rauscherberger’s opponents who might then put it into the Public Domain. But again, if Rauschenberger knows that KJ has nothing, why worry? Well, you know, if a steady stream of media folks will investigate and ask and ask, eventually it becomes similar to this statement: “Ok, if you didn’t beat your wife in 1990, how about in 1991? in 1992? Etc. Worse, if the stuff continues to circulate among media members, bloggers and political activists under the radar screen without publication by the mainstream media, it still simmers and keeps the pot filled with boiling nasties.

Rauschenberger unequivocally denied at the press conference, when I asked him, that he had any other DUIs out there. There have been whispers that such accusations have been whispered about Steve by KJ, especially on the very day that Jack Ryan withdrew from the U. S. Senate race, June 25, 2004, a day when many Republican activists were already suggesting Rauschenberger should take Jack’s place.

When I asked KJ if he remembered being in Chicago and at a Republican Leader’s retreat on the evening of June 25, 2004, he said he did remember, after I refreshed his recollection, of being at that event-- which took place a few hours after then State GOP Chair Judy Baar Topinka and KJ held a press conference to answer questions about the process to find a replacement for Jack Ryan. I asked Kjellander some specific questions about that evening:

Jeff Berkowitz: On or about that time [June 25, 2004], did you approach anybody, some media members, and say that you had some information about Rauschenberger and you would be happy to give it to them and they might want to write about it, and it was negative information.

Bob Kjellander: Not that I recall. Over the course of the campaign for the U. S. Senate where Rauschenberger went from one end of the state to the other, attacking me, I got many emails and phone calls from people saying this bad thing about Rauschenberger and that bad thing. I mean, I have no idea whether they [the things said] are true or untrue. The two things I know that are true are that he acknowledges driving drunk and he acknowledges accepting consulting fees from a lobbying firm [$10,500 for a one time matter from the Midwest Public Affairs Group that Team Rauschenberger says did not involve any lobbying on the Senator's part]. Beyond that, I have no specific knowledge of any of his transgressions, whatever they may be. There are a lot of rumors and innuendoes out there, but I am not getting into that…The only things that I am prepared to discuss are the things that he has already acknowledged.

Berkowitz: Well, he acknowledges having one DUI on his record and you just said he acknowledges driving drunk. Did you mean to imply anything more than that one DUI on his record?

Kjellander: No.

Berkowitz: So, you have never told any members of the media [that] you know of other DUIs that are out there? Is that what you are saying?

Kjellander: I don’t know of any other DUIs.

Berkowitz: And you have never told the media to the contrary, is that right?

Kjellander: No. [I have never told them to the contrary].

Berkowitz: Or told them anything about his financial background and financial responsibility and you have that kind of information if they wanted to write some negative things about Rauschenberger.

Kjellander: I don’t have any financial information about Rauschenberger.

Berkowitz: So, you have never really approached media, you are saying, to write negative things about Rauschenberger.

Kjellander: If I am asked, I tell them that I think he is a third tier candidate, who doesn’t have any chance to win. I’ll plead guilty to that.

Berkowitz: When you say third tier candidate, were you surprised he got 21% of the vote in the primary last time.

Kjellander: Not particularly,
he got a lot of editorial support but if you look at all of the polls that have been done in the last year, he is in the low single digits in every single poll. And, I would venture to say that is exactly where he is going to stay.

Berkowitz: Why did he [Rauschenberger] get so much support from the editorial boards across the state last time? [why do] you think?

Kjellander: I have no idea.

As we can see from the above, the whole KJ-Rauschy fight is a distraction to Rauschenberger’s campaign. So, contrary to what some in the Press thought, Monday’s event was not to inoculate Steve from his 10 year old DUI, but to inoculate his campaign from what he views as the “Bob Kjellander distraction.” Yes, Senator Rauschenberger once took on KJ to oust him as a national committeeman. And, Senator Steve still thinks KJ should step down. But, now Senator Rauschenberger realizes that his campaign needs to focus on other matters, and not on Bob Kjellander.

Senator Steve Rauschenberger was trying to hang a lantern on KJ and to bring the KJ- Rauschenberger dispute out in the open. So, if KJ walks around in the future peddling a file on Steve to the media—Steve is proclaiming to the media that (1) there is nothing in the file and (2) If KJ offers it, they should take it and if it doesn’t check out, slam KJ. If it does check out, slam Senator Rauschenberger. Or, as we used to say, as kids, “Put up or shut up.”

As I said, hang a lantern on the issue, decide the issue and then take the lantern elsewhere.

Although Dan Proft was last seen holding a lantern on Blago’s unusual, to say the least, manner of funding a ten million dollar embryonic stem cell research effort, the above doesn’t quite dispose of the entire Rauschenberger-Kjellander War. That’s for later, maybe.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at