In a resignation letter to Michael Ferro, chairman of Sun-Times owner Rapports, veteran State House reporter Dave McKinney claims he was placed on leave from his regular political beat two days after his unflattering story about Rauner's business dealings was published and told by his bosses that he might be permanently exiled from his State House beat. Interestingly, Rapports was part of an investment group that included Rauner in a 2011 purchase of the Sun-Times. Rauner later sold his 10% stake in the Sun-Times to Ferro. McKinney claimed he was offered other jobs at the Sun-Times, all of which he considered demotions.
A representative of Rauner's campaign admitted to the Chicago Tribune that the campaign had complained to the Sun-Times management about McKinney having a conflict of interest in covering his race because of his marriage to a Democratic consultant, Ann Liston, which Rauner's campaign claimed was assisting Quinn's re-election. McKinney insisted in his resignation letter that the campaigns on which his wife was working were all out-of-state races. Here's part of McKinney's resignation letter:
Faced with the Rauner campaign’s ugly attack, Sun-Times Publisher and Editor Jim Kirk immediately told the Rauner campaign that this “assault” on my integrity “border[ed] on defamation” and represented “a low point in the campaign.” In other statements, Kirk called the campaign’s tactic “spurious” and “sexist.”
Yet despite such strong rebukes, two days later, I was yanked from my beat as I reported on a legislative hearing focusing on Gov. Pat Quinn’s botched Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. My reporting for that day was then removed inexplicably from the Sun-Times website.
I was told to go on leave, a kind of house arrest that lasted almost a week. It was pure hell. Kirk told me that his bosses were considering taking me away permanently from the political and Springfield beats. He offered up other potential jobs at the paper, all of which I considered demotions. Because of my unexplained absence from my beat, colleagues started calling, asking if I had been suspended. Or fired.
Through all this, I simply wanted to get back to my beat, but the paper wouldn’t let me. And, Carol [Marin] and I were instructed not to contact you [Michael Ferro, Sun-Times Chairman] or [CEO] Tim Knight about the Rauner campaign’s defamatory allegations.McKinney has hired former Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins to determine whether Rauner illegally interfered with his employment relationship with the Sun-Times. McKinney claims that he was told by Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk "that Ferro couldn't understand why the story was even in the paper." Kirk initially defended McKinney's story when the Rauner campaign publicly condemned it, but McKinney believes the decision to remove him from his State House beat was Ferro's decision and not Kirk's.
McKinney's story focused on a lawsuit filed by former executives of a failed outsourcing company started by Rauner's investment group called LeapSource. LeapSource's former executive, Christine Kirk, claimed Rauner had threatened to "bury her" and "bankrupt her" in legal fees if she sued his company. Rauner told one of LeapSource's board members that he would make her "radioactive." Kirk's lawsuit was later dismissed against Rauner's company. In dismissing the suit, the judge said Rauner's company had chosen to play "hardball" and it "would have been preferable to plaintiffs if defendants had comported themselves with an aspirational ideal of good corporate governance practices that go beyond the minimal legal requirements of corporate law."