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Illinois’ incoming governor will use own wealth to double some staff salaries

Illinois’ incoming governor will use own wealth to double some staff salaries
Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has set up an LLC to allow him "to personally compensate some staff in addition to their government salary,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. (Max Herman / Associated Press)

Billionaire Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, who pumped more than $171 million of his own wealth into his campaign to defeat Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner in November, now will use his own money to bolster his top government aides’ salaries, his transition team said Friday.

Pritzker’s incoming chief of staff, Anne Caprara, will be paid a salary of $298,000 — $148,000 in state money and $150,000 more from East Jackson Street LLC, an organization Pritzker set up to “enable the governor-elect to personally compensate some staff in addition to their government salary,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

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Rauner’s chief, by comparison, made $180,000 in 2018, according to state records.

The Pritzker camp announced the unusual arrangement days before he is inaugurated Monday. On top of the new LLC, lawmakers this week approved legislation that would allow the incoming governor to pay new agency heads 15% more.

Supporters contend that Illinois trails other big states in the salaries it offers for top jobs. The heads of the state Department of Corrections and Department of Transportation, for example, make about $150,000 a year.

Pritzker’s transition team pointed to fellow billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg supplementing his staff’s pay with his own money when he was mayor of New York. The transition team says Pritzker’s move means some aides will have lower taxpayer-funded salaries than Rauner’s, and they’ll have to report the supplemental income on ethics forms.

“This process will take place in a transparent manner with requirements that information be reported publicly,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement.

According to a transition document, deputy governors such as former state Comptroller Dan Hynes will make a salary of $278,000 — $139,000 from the state and $139,000 more from Pritzker’s LLC. The same numbers go for the senior advisor role.

Only their state salaries will count toward calculating their eventual pension benefits, the transition team said.

The LLC’s creation is the latest development showing how the Hyatt hotels heir will manage the intersection of his substantial personal wealth and his job running Illinois’ state government. On Thursday, Pritzker promised to shift some of his wealth into a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest, but it’s unclear whether he will be able to fully wall off his fortune from his official duties.

Pritzker said he has appointed Chicago-based Northern Trust Co. to act as an independent trustee and make all investment decisions about his personal assets. Those same rules won’t apply to the extended Pritzker family fortune that’s held in secretive onshore and offshore trusts. Pritzker said the terms governing the family trusts do not allow for the assets to be moved into the blind trust.

In addition, Pritzker is divesting “his personally held direct interests in companies that have contracts” with the state, his campaign said.

Pritzker, who will become the nation’s richest governor when he’s sworn in next week, declined to identify those companies or the amount of those state contracts. Nor would Pritzker disclose the amount of his personal assets going into the blind trust or reveal how much he benefits from various family trusts.

The complex and vast nature of Pritzker’s wealth and a lack of transparency illustrate how difficult it can be to learn when a wealthy politician’s financial interests might butt up against what’s in taxpayers’ best interests.

Pritzker said his efforts to avoid conflicts go further than what was done by Rauner, a wealthy private equity investor who stopped short of setting up a blind trust.

When he took office in 2015, Rauner set up a power of attorney to handle much of his wealth to try to avoid conflicts between his personal investments and his public duties. Rauner gave that power to Roundtable Investment Partners, a New York firm he’s intertwined with both financially and politically. Rauner is an investor in the private equity firm and several of its funds. And Roundtable employees donated to his campaign fund.

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What Pritzker promises to set up is not a true blind trust, however, since he will not be totally “blind.” He will need to know the names of the companies and funds he’s invested in to do his taxes and to comply with the state’s ethics laws.

As was the case with Rauner, Pritzker will be required to annually file a statement of economic interest — required by law and released publicly — that lists entities he has a financial interest in but not the amount invested.

Riopell is a Chicago Tribune staff writer.

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