Gov. J.B. Pritzker pledged that he would be transparent about using his personal fortune to double the state salaries of his top aides in the governor's office, but the billionaire has yet to release payroll records for those employees.
Before taking office, Pritzker announced that he would supplement the taxpayer-funded salaries of key employees with his own money. For instance, the Center for Illinois Politics reported that half of Pritzker’s chief of staff’s nearly $300,000 salary would come from taxpayers and the other half from Pritzker’s East Jackson Street LLC.
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"This process will take place in a transparent manner with requirements that information be reported publicly," Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement at the time of the announcement.
Pritzker said his office is living up to that pledge even though it has yet to release pay records from East Jackson Street LLC.
"We’ve been transparent and we’ve responded to all the [Freedom of Information Act] requests that we’ve received," Pritzker said.
That was after the nearly three weeks it took for his office to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from Illinois News Network seeking the private pay records. In response to that request, Pritzker’s office provided state pay records, but said it doesn’t have any documents related to payments from the limited liability company.
"The Governor’s Office does not possess documents relating to the amounts paid by East Jackson Street LLC," General Counsel Steven Roets wrote. "In January, the Governor’s transition office publicly released the details of the non-taxpayer staff compensation by East Jackson Street LLC State employees."
The response said state salaries for deputy governor, senior advisor, deputy chief of staff, first assistant to deputy governor and press staff would get an equal amount from the LLC. There were no documents similar to the ones the office provided for the taxpayer-funded salaries.
Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli said that’s not transparent.
"Gov. Pritzker ran on saying he was going to have the most transparent governor’s office in Illinois history and one of his first steps is to actually set up a process that is the least transparent when it comes to offshoring or privatizing doubling staff payroll," Wehrli said.
Private organizations, like East Jackson Street LLC, are not subject to the state's open records law even if they support public operations.
Wehrli said it would have been more transparent if Pritzker used campaign funds to double up the pay.
"At least you have quarterly reports and you can see inflows and outflows," Wehrli said. "This way no one can see where the money is coming from or how it’s being distributed."
Pritzker's use of private money to pay state employees has raised some ethical questions, including about where loyalties lie, with taxpayers or the billionaire, Wehrli said.
"They're going to be loyal to the people writing the biggest check," Wehrli said. "They’re going to make a substantial sum of money. We will not have any disclosure on where and how the money is being disbursed and they’re going to get rich and go all the way to the bank with it."
Wehrli had previously said he would file legislation to address the issue, but he has yet to do so. The deadline to file new bills is Friday.
With the private dollars, Pritzker’s top staffers are among the highest paid state government employees of their kind in the country.