Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon urged Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner to release his complete 2013 income tax records during a press conference Monday morning.
"Today I am calling on candidate Bruce Rauner to make full disclosure of all the schedules that go with his taxes and his 2013 tax returns," Simon said in Chicago's Grant Park. "Being engaged in public politics and governance requires a sacrifice of some privacy, but it's a small sacrifice, and it's worth it because transparency builds trust. This is not a 'gotcha.' This is governing. Let's do it right."
Rauner, a millionaire venture capitalist who is going up against Gov. Pat Quinn in the November General Election, has not released his full 2013 income tax information despite recent calls for disclosure from Quinn's campaign as well as state lawmakers Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and Sen. Mike Hastings (D-Tinley Park). A press release from Simon's campaign noted that every other Republican nominee for Illinois governor since at least Jim Thompson released their most recent year's income tax return.
A spokesperson for Rauner's campaign could not immediately be reached for comment. Last week, a Rauner spokesman said the calls for disclosure are "a political stunt," writing in a statement to the media that the GOP nominee for Illinois governor "has paid every penny of tax he owed, he has already voluntarily released far more tax information than he's required to, and he's disclosed every business interest he has in Illinois."
Simon, also the Democratic candidate for Illinois comptroller, said "transparency in government is certainly no stunt."
"What I'm really after is disclosure," she told reporters. "He might not listen to me directly, but I think he's going to listen to the people of the state of Illinois. This is something that's incredibly welcome by citizens, residents [and] taxpayers in Illinois. It's not a legal standard, but I think it is an expectation of the voting populous ... He needs to disclose information that has come to be the standard — tax returns and the schedules that come with it — so that we can know that there are no conflicts of interest there."
Simon made a point to stress that she herself is "a practitioner of disclosure."
"I've practiced disclosure when I was a candidate for lieutenant governor," she explained. "Governor Quinn and I disclosed all of our information. Certainly as lieutenant governor every year I've disclosed my husband and my tax return, all the schedules that go with it and a detailed financial statement. In addition, I have my senior staff disclose information about their income and assets ... It's what I did running for mayor of Carbondale, Illinois. And if the candidate for mayor of Carbondale discloses more than a candidate for governor, that's not a good day for democracy."
Ahead of Simon's press conference this morning, the Illinois Republican Party issued a statement stating that the lieutenant governor's news event was held in an effort to "distract the media from the real news of the day: Quinn’s refusal to discuss federal grand jury subpoenas of emails in his office" in connection with the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI). The controversial anti-crime program, which was spearheaded by Gov. Pat Quinn's administration and has since been disbanded, is under probes by federal and Cook County authorities as well as a state legislative panel.
"Quinnochio," a mascot of the Rauner campaign targeting Quinn, made an appearance at Simon's news conference shortly after it ended. Quinnochio held a sign reading, "Don't ask me about NRI."
"This is not a distraction," Simon told reporters in response to the Illinois Republican Party's statement. "This is not a trick. I have been committed to transparency for a long, long time and practicing it for a long, long time. And significantly, it's something that citizens of the state of Illinois have demanded for a long, long time."
Simon was also asked whether her call for Rauner to release his 2013 income tax records came at the request of state Democrats or Quinn's campaign.
"I've been working closely with Governor Quinn's campaign on this" issue of openness and transparency in government, Simon responded. "This is something that's important to me and the governor. It's important to all of us on the Democratic ticket."
Today's news conference comes of the heels of a Chicago Tribune report highlighting various accounting maneuvers Rauner has used to slash his income tax bill in previous years. At least one accounting method permitted under the tax code that Rauner took advantage of is facing closer inspection by the IRS. The newspaper's analysis of IRS data showed that Rauner's tax rate on much of his earnings was 15 percent, which according to the newspaper is "less than half the top federal rate for the wealthy."
"I think that full disclosure is how all of us can satisfy our own need to know on these important issues," Simon said when asked about the newspaper's recent report.
Meanwhile, Simon declined to comment about her race for Illinois comptroller against incumbent Judy Baar Topinka, a Republican.
"I really want to keep the focus on disclosure here today," she said. "We'll talk about that on a later opportunity."