SPRINGFIELD — Despite a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment and using state employees for political work, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he's not dropping out of the Illinois governor's race.
Although much of the focus in the race lingers on claims of harassment leveled against Rutherford, the treasurer said he intends to stick with his campaign until the end.
"No," he said. "I am not dropping out of this race. I am running for governor."
Rutherford's campaign took a blow on Monday when former treasury staffer Ed Michalowski filed a federal lawsuit against the Republican gubernatorial hopeful. It claims that Rutherford made numerous sexual advances upon him and forced him to do political work for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.
But Rutherford said he is confident that he can steer the race's focus back to policy issues in time for the March primary.
"I'm continuing my campaign schedule," he said. "We're doing fundraising and we're talking about the issues that Illinoisans care about, like jobs."
That hasn't stopped other candidates from using the allegations against him, though. At a candidate forum Monday night, Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hillsdale asked Rutherford in front of an audience if there were anymore sexual harassment claims pending against him.
"I thought it was inappropriate for him to do that," Rutherford said. "I'm sticking to the policy issues, and I think that's what the people of Illinois are interested in right now. Who's going to be a good leader? Who has a clear vision for the state?"
Before the case was filed, Rutherford wouldn't talk specifics about the allegations. Now that a claim has been filed, he said he's in a better position to refute the story.
"The allegations were finally made," he said. "So now I can address them. They are false, and now we're able to be upfront and talk about it."
Michalowski claims that Rutherford made sexual remarks to him on several occasions. In one instance, he claims that Rutherford had a staffer order him via text message to come to work in a tank top.
He also claims that Rutherford grabbed at his genitals during an overnight retreat at Rutherford's home in Chenoa.
Rutherford has made public a handful of documents that he says refute these claims.
One of them is a printout of the text exchange about the tank top order. It shows that Michalowski was joking with the other staffer about "business casual" attire, offering to come to work in a "business casual" toupee. Rutherford says that the staffer responded with the tank top order in jest.
Another document, a travel voucher signed by Michalowski, shows that Michalowski left the treasurer's residence several hours before he claims Rutherford grabbed him.
Michalowski says he intentionally misreported his travel time so that the state wouldn't compensate him for a trip that was primarily for political work.
Ever since the allegations first came out last week, Rutherford has claimed that his primary opponent, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, of Winnetka, has been influencing events from behind the scenes.
"This whole thing, in my opinion, was calculated, and politically timed," Rutherford said. "We have allegations that are not true."
Rutherford said his office is undergoing an independent investigation into the claims, and that a report will likely be issued by the end of the week.