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At GOP debate, Brady says Rauner ‘tied to more felons’ than Blagojevich

State Sen. Bill Brady right businessman Bruce Rauner left shake hands after participating Republican gubernatorial candidate debate Tuesday Feb. 18

State Sen. Bill Brady, right, and businessman Bruce Rauner, left, shake hands after participating in a Republican gubernatorial candidate debate Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: March 5, 2014 10:44AM

Rhetoric in the GOP gubernatorial primary intensified during a televised debate Tuesday after state Sen. Bill Brady accused venture capitalist Bruce Rauner of being “tied to more felons” than Rod Blagojevich.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, called Rauner the “king of all pay-to-play politics in the history of Illinois.”

The remarks came at a debate sponsored by WMAQ-Channel 5 and the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. It was the first of two televised gubernatorial debates this week. The primary is just two weeks away — on March 18.

“We have a corrupt culture; we gotta change it,” Rauner said.

Brady, a Bloomington Republican, essentially said it was the pot calling the kettle black and raised an issue that has dogged Rauner during his campaign: Stuart Levine and state pension business. Levine sat on the Teachers Retirement System board at the same time that a Rauner company was paying Levine a consulting fee. The TRS board — along with Levine — voted to double the state’s investment in the company.

“He’s tied to more felons that are in jail than I think Rod Blagojevich,” Brady said. Blagojevich is serving a 14-year sentence in a federal prison in Colorado.

Rauner has said that the $25,000-a-month contract with Levine was in place before Rauner was associated with the firm and he said he didn’t know Levine. Levine was the chief government witness in the 2008 trial of political fundraiser Tony Rezko. Levine admitted to a litany of corruption, including handing out bribes and taking bribes for state business.

Rauner ratcheted up his attack too, exploiting the fact that three of his opponents took campaign contributions from public-sector unions. Rauner has blanketed TV with ads attacking “government union bosses.”

“I spoke out against government union bosses because they can bribe politicians with taxpayer-funded union dues, and it hurts working families,” Rauner said.

Moderator Carol Marin asked Rauner if it was considered a bribe when a business makes a campaign contribution. Rauner said it could be if the business was seeking something specific in return.

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he thought Rauner’s rhetoric wrongly demonized union workers, particularly teachers.

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