GOP gov hopeful Rutherford spent 23 days abroad as treasurer - New York News

GOP gov hopeful Rutherford spent 23 days abroad as treasurer

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

In his three years as Illinois treasurer, Dan Rutherford has demonstrated a penchant for globe-trotting unlike any of his predecessors over the past quarter century.

In 2011 and 2012, the Republican gubernatorial hopeful spent a combined 32 days traveling overseas in his capacity as Illinois treasurer, including a 15-day trip to China; a nine-day trip to Israel; and an eight-day trip to Korea, the Sun-Times reports.

He is the first Illinois treasurer in at least 24 years to accept third-party funded travel overseas in his official capacity.

Rutherford, who is in a four-way race for the GOP primary nod for governor, took the trips for "educational purposes," according to his office. He defended them as appropriate.

On Friday, Rutherford shook up the primary contest by holding a sudden news conference, announcing that an employee in his office had lodged an allegation that Rutherford claimed was concocted at the hands of one of his opponents, Bruce Rauner.

Rutherford would not describe the nature of the allegations but he claimed that the employee's attorney asked for $300,000 to settle the matter. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday that a treasurer's office employee is accusing Rutherford of harassment. Christine Svenson, the attorney representing that employee, was once paid $3,500 to review a lease for the Rauner campaign. The campaign denied any involvement and accused Rutherford of trying to distract from the issue.

In response to a Freedom of Information request from the Sun-Times, Rutherford's office disclosed details of the trips but emphasized that no taxpayer money was used to pay the cost of airfare, meals or lodging.

With the exception of Rutherford paying for his own airfare to China, the trips were underwritten by third-party entities.

"Yes, the treasurer has traveled overseas," said treasurer spokeswoman Mary Frances Bragiel. "It's been done for educational purposes, when he went as a guest to Israel, Korea and to China. No taxpayer dollars have ever been used."

The Chinese People's Institute for Foreign Affairs paid for Rutherford's trip to China. The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago paid for the trip to Israel, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea, paid for Rutherford's trip to Korea.

During each trip, Rutherford received his taxpayer-funded salary, as did his executive assistant, Josh Lanning. Lanning often travels with the treasurer, including on a personal excursion to Australia in 2011, which Rutherford has described as a "few weeks" in length in June of that year.

Fewer than two months later, Rutherford was in flight again, traveling to China, where he and his executive assistant spent 15 days.

In an interview with the Sun-Times, Rutherford defended his travel, saying for instance that the trip to China served as a gesture to the nation because he was with the Illinois Department of Commerce in the 1980s when it opened the first trade office in China.

"There was a lot of symbolism for the Chinese to have the guy who helped open the first trade office in China," return now as an elected official from Illinois, Rutherford argued.

He added that state lawmakers also were on that trip.

"Senators and reps were on this trip; they do it every year," Rutherford said.

When asked if he believed that, given Illinois' struggling economic state, his time might better be served in Illinois than abroad, Rutherford responded: "Doing what? I'm in constant contact with my office" when overseas, Rutherford said. "So no, there was nothing at all that faulted in the treasurer's office because I was overseas."

Rutherford emphasized that "today's technology" makes it easy to work remotely and that Lanning was there, in part, as a "traveling assistant" and to make sure he stayed in contact with the treasurer's office.

"Most constitutional officers that are invited by another country, they have staffing that goes with them. Josh travels with the treasurer a lot, day in, day out," Bragiel said. "He just works alongside the treasurer. He is an executive assistant to the treasurer and helps out with the day-to-day responsibilities with Treasurer Rutherford. I don't think it's unusual; most constitutional officers have staff with them."

Photos on Rutherford's Facebook page show the treasurer diving in the Red Sea, posing with Lanning next to the Wailing Wall in Israel as well as trekking through remote regions of the nation.

Asked if he worried that the trips could be confused as an excuse for a vacation, Rutherford was adamant in saying the trips served an educational purpose.

When pressed about photos of his scuba diving in Israel, Rutherford said he took two or three days of "personal time" to do some sight-seeing, including diving in the Red Sea. He said he made it clear to others that he was taking that time and paid for that time out of his own pocket.

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