Updated: August 11, 2013 2:34AM
Last March, the president of the influential and heavily corporate CEO-populated Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago told a long and involved story.
The tale was about how he and some members of his group had tried to browbeat the New York credit ratings agencies into lowering Illinois’ bond ratings. The ratings hadn’t yet plummeted to where they are now, so the idea was to use ratings cuts to put pressure on Illinois to enact a tough pension-reform law that drastically reduced benefits for current and future public employee retirees.
There were a “couple” of interactions on the phone, he told his Union League Club audience, and “in one case it was in person.”
“How in the hell can you guys do this?” Fahner summed up the gist of the argument made to the ratings agencies. “You’re an enabler to let the state continue.”
Fahner said he believed the calls had stopped because, he said, he and the Civic Committee members “don’t want to be the straw that breaks the back.”
He also appeared to take some credit for the ratings downgrades. “But if you watch what happened over the last few years, it’s been steadily down. Before that, it’s been the blind eye.”
But then, after I’d written about his speech in the Sun-Times and on my CapitolFax.com website, Fahner wrote me to say he made it all up.
“You gotta be kidding me,” was my initial reaction after I read his e-mail to me this week. That was a pretty darned complicated story to just invent on the fly.
“I misspoke,” Fahner wrote. “I didn’t call the ratings agencies, nor did any of our Civic Committee staff.” He later clarified that he knew of nobody at the Civic Committee who had ever “contacted the rating agencies to urge Illinois be downgraded or for any other reason.”
Yep. It was all just a fantasy, kinda like that time on “Dallas” when Patrick Duffy’s character Bobby Ewing was killed off and then Duffy decided a few months later that he wanted to return to the show, so the producers announced that the entire season had just been a bad dream by Pamela Ewing, Bobby’s wife, played by Victoria Principal.
I’m not sure if Fahner is Bobby Ewing or Pamela, but Fahner’s comments had definitely become a nightmare.
Fahner’s law firm currently has a contract worth as much as $2 million to — irony of all ironies — handle the state of Illinois’ bond work. So, if Fahner was telling the truth back in March, he was boasting about advocating against one of his firm’s big clients. Also, the current chairman of Fahner’s law firm is a Civic Committee member. Not to mention that many of the big financial CEOs who are Civic Committee members run companies that do lots of Illinois bond business.
Fahner is no average Joe. He is a former Illinois attorney general. The Civic Committee he runs is loaded with corporate titans. The guy has clout.
A pension-reform bill that Fahner wholeheartedly supported could’ve passed months ago, but Fahner refused to agree to a compromise. Senate President John Cullerton offered to construct a bill that would allow Fahner’s more draconian pension reforms to take effect, but if the courts struck the language down as unconstitutional, then Cullerton’s rival proposal would kick in.
In perhaps the most frustrating moment during the three long years of agonizing pension-reform battles, Fahner’s opposition pulled Senate Republicans off the bill, which doomed it to failure.
And here we sit today with nothing. No pension reform. Nothing.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.