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Allegations Against Treasurer Might Be the Tip of the Iceberg PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 09 February 2014 05:41

One of the reasons people near Treasurer Dan Rutherford are so nervous these days is because of the possibility that other employees might come out of the woodwork with even more allegations.

As I write this, the publicly revealed facts are still quite thin. A now-former employee of Rutherford has claimed, without producing any hard evidence as of this writing, that he was sexually harassed and told to do political fundraising work. Rutherford has flatly denied the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated and part of a shakedown attempt that’s being pushed by Bruce Rauner, his Republican-gubernatorial-primary opponent. The former employee, Rutherford claims, demanded $300,000 through his attorney to remain quiet. Rauner has denied any involvement.

The treasurer’s office has negotiated two previous severance agreements, a fact that the accuser’s lawyer alluded to last week when she told WLS Radio’s Dan Proft: “Their standard MO is to work out standard severance agreements. That’s what they do, and they’ve been doing that the last two or three years with employees.”

But a top Rutherford aide adamantly denied last week that the prior severance agreements had anything to do with allegations of misconduct by Rutherford. So Rutherford’s allies can probably rest easy on that potential problem, because it likely doesn’t exist.

Rutherford has a reputation among his friends and acquaintances as being a pleasant, positive, somewhat quirky, but almost always upbeat guy. You can’t help but like the man. He’s one of the truly nice guys in this state’s political world.

Working for Rutherford, however, is sometimes anything but a pleasant experience. He is, like many in politics, a man driven by ambition who has long aimed his sights at a higher office. He works almost nonstop, and he doesn’t care for those who can’t keep up with him or don’t meet his standards.

For instance, several weeks ago, Rutherford, an aide, and a driver were on the road. Rutherford was not happy with the driver’s performance at an event. As punishment, Rutherford ordered the driver to remain in the car while he and the other aide went into a restaurant. Rutherford also reportedly took the car keys with him into the restaurant. The devastated young man called his sister and had her pick him up and quit on the spot.

A top aide to Rutherford recently confirmed the story but brushed it off, explaining that everybody has bad moments.

While admittedly on the extreme end of his personality spectrum, it’s that sort of behavior that has Rutherford’s allies worried about what some other employees might say to a lawyer or a reporter. And there are a dozen or more stories of a similar nature. The treasurer, to put it bluntly, has more than a few disgruntled people in his office.

But potential trouble from revenge-minded employees represents only a small part of the storm facing the treasurer. Word from inside is that the folks who say they can corroborate allegations of sexual harassment and pressure to raise campaign funds by the treasurer were telling their full stories last week to the independent investigator appointed by Rutherford to get to the bottom of the story. We’ll see if those stories hold up to scrutiny.

The very real possibility of a Rutherford collapse has not yet completely deterred labor groups from pushing ahead with their plan to attack Bruce Rauner via negative TV ads. However, they don’t seem as confident as they were a month ago that the strategy will work.

One top labor official said last week that he never thought they had more than a 25-percent chance of defeating Rauner in the Republican primary, even though a month ago he appeared quite confident they could throw a knockout punch.

The fallback plan appears to be to tarnish Rauner enough in the next month or so that he doesn’t start off with a huge and insurmountable lead over Governor Pat Quinn after the primary ends. Quinn is already trailing all four of his Republican opponents by eight to 10 points, so, barring a knockout, they want to stop any further Quinn erosion and knock Rauner back on his heels a bit.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.

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