Rauner Denies Connection to Anti-Madigan Documentary

Opinion

I have not yet viewed the Illinois Policy Institute's upcoming documentary, "Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics.," but I'm prepared to make a prediction: Its release next month will have a hard time matching the buzz stirred up in the last few days by news of its very existence.

Seldom has the connecting of dots in current events been as compelling as it's been since news broke about this project on Sept. 15.

Rauner's statement (above) at a Sept. 19 press conference that he knew nothing in advance about the Madigan video, to be released by the lobbying arm of the policy institute, only made this whole story better. I was in the room and heard no audible guffaws when Rauner said it, but the vibe of suppressed eye-rolling among the media was unmistakable. At least to me.

The Illinois Policy Institute bankrolls a professionally produced, 60-minute documentary about Rauner's nemesis -- House Speaker Michael Madigan -- for release just before an election that will test whether Rauner has cut into Madigan's iron-grip power in the General Assembly and Rauner had no idea it was coming?  Good one.

Back story

Before he became a candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner's family foundation had donated $625,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank founded in 2002 and dedicated to "generating public policy solutions aimed at promoting personal freedom and prosperity in Illinois," its website says.  "I'm a free-market conservative, and I've supported many causes around the nation for free-market conservative principles," Rauner told The State Journal-Register in Springfield in 2013.

With a large staff at its offices in Chicago and Springfield and several specialized subsidiaries -- Illinois Policy Action (lobbying), Illinois News Network (news and opinion), Illinois Radio Network (radio news), Liberty Justice Center (litigation) -- the policy institute has become arguably the state's strongest force in conservative advocacy. When Rauner took office, the institute became a staunch proponent of the business and political reforms in his Turnaround Agenda.

Inner circle

A report in the Daily Herald on Sept. 12 showed that Rauner regards the policy institute as more than just an external advocate. Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman recently was on a panel, along with Rauner, interviewing candidates to replace departing state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine. As columnist Kerry Lester reported:

After initially staying out of the process of selecting a replacement for departing GOP state Sen. Matt Murphy, the governor's office and its allies have jumped into the fray. They held interviews for the six candidates Friday in Chicago. Among those questioning the candidates were the governor, chief political strategist Mike Zolnierowicz, John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute and Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno.

That report prompted Rich Miller, publisher of Capitol Fax whose weekly column appears in Reboot Illinois, to comment:

Also, some folks are really starting to get nervous about all the influence that John Tillman appears to wield over Rauner these days.

Showtime

Three days later, Natasha Korecki of Politico Illinois reported that the documentary was in the works:

Illinois Policy Action, an arm of the Illinois Policy Institute, is backing a new documentary called "Madigan: Power, privilege, politics," which the group has dubbed "an unprecedented look at the life and influence of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, one of the state's most powerful political figures of all time."

The 60-minute documentary is to be released in October -- weeks before the November election -- and will be available online and at "select movie theaters throughout the state," a statement from Illinois Policy said.

The trailer for "Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics." makes it clear that this documentary is intended to be to Madigan what "Hillary: the Movie" was to Hillary Clinton in 2008.

But that's not how it was billed to potential interview subjects who were sought by the production company.

Miller, who just days earlier had noted on his blog concerns by some Republicans about Tillman's increasing influence on Rauner, said he felt "duped" into doing an interview for the video. In a post titled "Duped," he explained:

This is the explanation I was given by the documentary's producer...
'Emergent Order, based out of Austin TX is trying to create a dialogue about why the state of Illinois is in poor shape. Many fingers have been pointed at Michael Madigan, but we're trying to do a fair/balanced piece about what's really at the center of it all. We've interviewed both people who support and dispute that Madigan is to blame. Interested in your take on that and any other relevant info you'd be willing to contribute.'
State Journal-Register political columnist Bernard Schoenburg, whose voice can be heard quizzing Rauner about the documentary in the clip at the top of this post, followed up with Miller for his
.

""I ... wouldn't have consented if the project was backed by the Illinois AFL-CIO, either," Miller told Schoenburg.

No press is bad press

All this adds up to a raft of free publicity that has ginned up a level of interest much higher than usually could be expected for this kind of project.

As already noted, though, I suspect the final product will have a hard time living up to the anticipation created by this dust-up. Like "Hillary: The Movie," it'll be dismissed by detractors of the Illinois Policy Institute and Rauner (even if he really didn't know about it) as propaganda and hailed as gospel by those who already want Madigan out.

In other words, it'll be a nice metaphor for the Rauner-Madigan rivalry over the last 18 months.