Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker reportedly sought a political appointment in 2008 from now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune reported Wednesday that Pritzker, a billionaire businessman, was caught on secret FBI wiretaps discussing President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat with Blagojevich.
As governor, Blagojevich had the power to make an appointment to fill the Senate seat. According to the tapes obtained by the Tribune, Pritzker told Blagojevich he had other ideas about his political future and asked about rumors that then-Illinois treasurer Alexi Giannoulias might be tapped for a post in the Obama administration, which would leave the treasurer’s job open.
“I actually am calling you about, I think you appoint his replacement don’t you?” Pritzker said on the phone in 2008, according to the Tribune’s report.
“Oh interesting, let’s think about that — you interested in that?” Blagojevich replied.
“Yeah, that’s the one I would want,” Pritzker said.
The Tribune obtained audio and transcripts of multiple conversations from 2008. In another conversation about the possible state Treasurer appointment, Blagojevich asked Pritzker to make a contribution to his campaign fund.
Pritzker said in the tapes that his prior campaign contributions to Blagojevich could be an obstacle to him being appointed to a political position, and shied away from the governor’s talk of future donations.
“Yeah, I don’t think we should even talk about it, but I understand what you’re saying,” Pritzker told Blagojevich.
Blagojevich was convicted of political corruption charges, including trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Pritzker was never accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
In a statement to reporters after the Tribune published its story, Pritzker spokeswoman Galia Slayen said there was “nothing untoward about JB’s conversations with the Governor.”
“Throughout JB’s life he’s had an interest in serving the people of Illinois, and that’s exactly what he expressed when discussing a potential opening in the Treasurer’s office. In fact, when the Governor brings up whether JB would be interested in being appointed to the Senate, on multiple occasions JB expresses he is not and moves away from the type of conversation that landed Rod Blagojevich in prison.”
Slayen called the story a “continuation of attacks” made by Rauner and Republicans, and said it was “no coincidence” the story was released on the final day of the session in Springfield, “where Governor Rauner has failed to pass a budget.”
Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.
Editor’s note: Chicago Public Media receives philanthropic support from The Pritzker Foundation. J.B. Pritzker, who is campaigning for governor in the Democratic Primary, is not involved with the foundation and does not contribute to it.