As the March 18 election determining which GOP gubernatorial candidate will square off against Pat Quinn this November draws near, candidate governor Dan Rutherford finds himself in a difficult positionpublicly addressing allegations of wrongdoing in his office of state treasurer without acknowledging what the allegations consist of, or even from whom the complaints originated.
Rutherford spoke to Windy City Times about the controversy Feb. 2.
On Jan. 31, Rutherford called a press conference to say that a Chicago attorney told his lawyers and him that allegations being investigated in Rutherford's office would go away if they paid the originator of the complaints $300,000. But Rutherford would not divulge who had made the allegations, or what the allegations were, at his Jan. 31 press conference, nor did he do so when he spoke to Windy City Times.
Rutherford is running against venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard.
Possible details emerged about the case the evening of Jan. 31, however. According to Chicago Sun-Times, a male employee in the Treasurer's office was alleging sexual harassment by Rutherford. The employee planned to file both an EEOC complaint and a complaint that his First Amendment rights had been violated. Chicagonow.com reported that the employee alleged he had to work on outside political activities while on the state clock.
Rutherford had been the subject of gay rumors and in August 2013 told Windy City Times, "I'm not gay." He repeated that assertion when asked again Feb. 2.
He is adamant that the allegations are motivated by politics more than anything else and said that his rival Rauner is behind them; on Jan. 31, he noted that Christine Svenson, the complainant's attorney, had done work for Rauner's campaign. Svenson said in a statement, however, that that work only entailed reviewing an office lease last April.
Rauner's campaign denies any wrongdoing in the matter. In a Jan. 31 statement, Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said, "Treasurer Rutherford should spend his time answering the serious claims made against him by a state employee, rather than trying to distract attention with false claims against us," Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Rutherford said that his office was informed of the allegations shortly before his Jan. 23 debate in Peoria.
"Our in-house general counsel got an email from Christine Svenson saying the she was representing an employee from inside the Treasurer's office," said Rutherford. "…The next day, they set up a conference with her and our in-house general counsel and our outside labor counsel. Both attorneys were on the line with her in which she generally outlined the allegations. During that conversation, she said that they would be willing to 'keep it under wraps' and 'resolve it' for $300,000."
Rutherford said he and his counsel were taken aback by Svenson allegedly volunteering to drop the matter for a predetermined dollar amount.
"I think that was the part that really caused all of us concern, when it is them saying, 'keep it under wraps,' and them saying, 'for $300,000.'"
But in a Jan. 31 statement, Svenson characterized the discussions as being negotiations in good faith.
"Mr. Rutherford's general counsel and in-house counsel both expressed a strong interest in keeping the matter private, and also expressed an appreciation for our willingness to do so," Svenson said. "We were exchanging information and negotiating on a good-faith basis for days until as recently as yesterday [Jan. 30]. These types of negotiations are, in my experience, common with regard to the Treasurer's office and have nothing to do with politics or the gubernatorial primary."
Rutherford said that the matter would be investigated this week by an outside firm, adding, "The challenge I have is, I can't mention the name, or the allegations, or the facts that I have to refute themthat's what puts it in a politically tenuous situation just before the election."
He would not say whether his office would press for legal prosecution. "I prefer not to go down that path right now. We're going to have our internal investigators go through everything. Let's just suggest we're going to keep all options open."
Rutherford maintained that the legal wrangle would not be an insurmountable hurdle for the campaign. "The campaign is going wellit's pretty obvious that it had been going so well, because now we're at that season in which you're going to try to take out your opponent and destroy them," he said.
The campaign will soon be launching television commercials; Rauner has been running commercials for some time now, while neither Brady nor Dillard have run television advertising in their campaigns. Rutherford also said that his campaign is financially sustainable, with about 26,000 individual contributors. "I'm not a self-funder. We raise our money from people who give the 25-, 50-, [and] 100-dollar checks, and we're very judicious in how we spend the money," he said.
Windy City Times' August profile of Rutherford can be found at: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/GOP-gubernatorial-candidate-talks-LGBT-support/43998.html .