CHICAGO | Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford announced Friday that his office has launched an external investigation over "allegations of misconduct" made against him by an employee he claims was put up to it by rival Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner.
Rutherford called a last-minute news conference Friday morning, during which he claimed the employee is represented by an attorney who has been on Rauner's payroll and that the attorney had demanded $300,000 on the employee's behalf to "walk away and keep it under wraps."
Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said the claims are false.
Rutherford, R-Chenoa, declined to provide any details about the allegations, citing restrictions in dealing with a personnel matter. He said the issue already had been reviewed internally and there was "absolutely no truth to the allegations."
Neil Olson, general counsel for the treasurer's office, said outside counsel and a consultant firm had been retained for an independent probe since the treasurer is the accused.
"There is something very, very fishy about the timing and with regards to who's behind it," Rutherford told reporters.
Schrimpf, Rauner's spokesman, said the lawyer mentioned by Rutherford worked for Rauner last spring on an office space lease. The attorney was paid a one-time fee of $3,500 and nothing was discussed with the attorney related to the treasurer, 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 a ridiculous false claim against us," Schrimpf said in an emailed statement.
Rutherford said the allegations were an attempt to knock him down ahead of the March 18 primary. Olson said the alleged conversation seeking the $300,000 happened within the last week.
Rutherford and Rauner are among four Republicans seeking the party's nomination. The others are state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is seeking re-election and faces one primary challenger, activist Tio Hardiman.
Rutherford is set to begin airing television ads next week, the second candidate to do so after Rauner. Rutherford ended the last quarter with about $1.37 million cash on hand, more than any other GOP candidate. But Rauner has raised about $4 million in the last quarter, far outpacing all the other GOP candidates.
"We've seen another person enter the race with millions and millions and millions of dollars who is specifically noted to say he is going to destroy his opponents," Rutherford said. "Nice try. Rutherford is staying in this race. I'm going to turn this back on him and I'm going to be the Republican nominee."
Olson said more information could be detailed later. He said the independent probe "will be thorough and bring it to light at some point when it's appropriate."