Pritzker defends finances; Top 3 Democrats running for governor face off in debate

CHICAGO -- On Wednesday evening the top three Democrats running for Illinois governor, J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss, met for the final televised candidate forum before next week's primary.

The debate started with questions about Pritzker’s offshore trusts and companies.

A new report claimed that Pritzker had a secret offshore bank account to avoid taxes. The Chicago Tribune reported the existence of offshore shell companies created over the last decade wholly owned by J.B. Pritzker, his brother and his business partner or other close associates.

Pritzker denied having shell companies, setting up the companies, having personal investments offshore and he said all disbursements made from those offshore trusts have been made to charity.

Pritzker’s communications director issued the following statement:

“JB has no personal investments offshore. Like all trusts, trusts for JB’s benefit make investments and as JB has always said, all disbursements made from those offshore trusts have been made to charity.”

The report raises questions about whether Pritzker, a billionaire, is parking money offshore to lower his tax bill.

The Tribune said Pritzker has repeatedly turned down interview requests.

The Pritzker campaign also provided WGN News with the following statement:

“Throughout his campaign, JB has been transparent about his finances and today’s article only confirms what he has always said. First, generations ago there were trusts set up offshore by JB’s family and JB does not manage or oversee them. Second…any distributions made from those trusts are directed to charity and JB has never received a personal disbursement from any trust located offshore.”

State Senator Daniel Biss responded Wednesday morning.

“J.B. Pritzker has disqualified himself to be governor of the state of Illinois. I think it’s worth taking a quick moment to assess what that story really tells us. It tells us that JB Pritzker has been lying to us about his offshore money.  It tells us he’s been scamming the system. He’s not prepared to level with votes,” Biss said.

 Biss admitted that if Pritzker wins the primary, he would support him in the general election.

Chris Kennedy weighed in with this statement:

“Tonight at our final debate, he needs to give voters a full explanation on why he lied to them last December about setting up offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes on his billions of dollars that he is now using to try to buy their votes.”

The report is likely to raise the stakes for Pritzker in Wednesday’s final faceoff.

At the debate, Kennedy and Pritzker feuded over taxes and commercials Pritzker is running.

“I’m gonna tell this to you J.B., you’ve been running ads saying I’m in favor of taxing retirement income. It’s not true. I’ve posted it on my website. Look at me in eyes, I want to let you know, I’m not for that. Please stop running those lies,” Kennedy said.

“You’ve got a different position today that you’ve had during this campaign,” Pritzer said.

 Another Pritzker and Kennedy battle, this one perhaps the night’s most dramatic -- over whether embattled Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios should be reelected.

Daniel Biss played defense on his support for writing a bill to cap state pensions that was ruled unconstitutional.

Pritzker and Kennedy mixed it up over Kennedy’s record on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Pritzker said Kennedy’s votes led to fewer minorities enrolling at the school.

The Democratic nominee will face the winner of the GOP primary between Rauner and state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

A recent poll showed Pritzker the clear frontrunner with Kennedy in second place and Biss in third. But many voters remained undecided.

Three other Democratic candidates who trail in polling weren't invited to Wednesday's forum.