CHICAGO (CBS) — The Republican Race for governor took a bizarre turn Friday, as Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford claimed his rival, billionaire Bruce Rauner, was behind an attorney’s demand for $300,000 to keep a treasurer employee’s allegations quiet.
Rutherford, at a hastily-arranged press conference, said attorney Christine Svenson contacted his office last week, and confronted his general counsel with unspecified allegations made by a staffer at the treasurer’s office. Rutherford also claimed Svenson offered to keep the allegations quiet in exchange for $300,000.
The accuser, well-placed sources tell CBS 2, is a $97,000-per-year current employee in the treasurer’s office — a man hired by Rutherford — who now, co-workers say, is charging sexual harassment against Rutherford himself.
Rutherford said he could not comment about those details. At the earlier news conference, he outlined allegations of a proposed payoff.
“During the call between Svenson, representing the plaintiff, and two attorneys – our in-house general counsel, and the outside counsel for the office of Attorney General – Svenson demanded a payment of $300,000 for the employee to, quote, ‘Walk away, and keep it under wraps,'” Rutherford said.
The treasurer and his general counsel, Neil Olson, said they could not discuss any specifics regarding the employee’s allegations, because the claims are being investigated by the treasurer’s office. Rutherford said he also has hired an outside firm, Ron Braver & Associates, to conduct an independent probe. Braver is a former IRS special agent.
“Let me just make this perfectly clear. There’s absolutely no truth to the allegations, no factual support or merit,” Rutherford said, although he declined to discuss even the nature of the claims against him.
“No one, no one including Bruce Rauner is going to destroy me. When I got into this race, I vowed to stay above the fray, and not go negative. I continue my commitment, but I will not stand false accusations that are destined to try to destroy me or my campaign,” he added.
He also implied the timing of the allegations against him — coming only seven weeks before the primary election — was intentional, saying he can’t legally discuss the specifics while the allegations are being investigated.
“I’d love to be able to sit here, right now and look at every one of those cameras in the eye, and each one of you reporters, so you put it on tape, exactly what was alleged against me, exactly the time frame that it was alleged against me, and exactly the lack of information about it, but I can’t. And this is very, very well-thought out,” he said.
“I find this to be very, very offensive,” Rutherford added. “You put these dots together, there’s no question in my mind what’s going on here. Someone tried to get $300,000, and is being represented by an attorney that was on Bruce Rauner’s payroll.”
Rauner’s campaign acknowledged it paid Svenson $3,500 last year, but said the payment was only to review the campaign’s lease for office space, and never discussed anything regarding Rutherford. The Rauner campaign also said Rutherford’s office recommended Svenson for the job.