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Unhappy staff might put heat on Rutherford

Other allegations could surface as primary nears

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 10, 2014 7:54 a.m. CDT

One of the reasons why 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's 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 his Republican gubernatorial primary opponent Bruce Rauner.

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 [modus operandi; or way of doing things] is to work out standard severance agreements. That's what they do, and they've been doing that the last 2 or 3 years with employees."

But a top Rutherford aide completely and adamantly denied last week that the prior severance agreements had anything to do with any sort of allegations of misconduct by Rutherford whatsoever. 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 example, 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, had her pick him up, and quit on the spot.

A top aide to Rutherford confirmed the story the other day, but brushed it off, explaining that everybody has their bad moments. We all do, indeed, have our bad moments, which shouldn't wind up being used to judge our complete character.  

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 Rutherford 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 whether those stories hold up to scrutiny.

The very real possibility of a Rutherford political 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 Gov. Pat Quinn after the primary ends.

Quinn is already trailing all four of his Republican opponents by 8 to 10 points, so, barring a knockout, they want to stop any further Quinn erosion and knock Rauner back on his heels a bit.

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