CHICAGO (AP) — In his pitch to become Illinois governor, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford boasts of his cheap travel and lodging practices as part of a frugal conservatism that will serve taxpayers if he becomes the state's next chief executive.
But a pattern of sharing hotel rooms and a Chicago studio apartment with a subordinate on his government staff has become an issue in the Republican's primary campaign, raising questions about his adherence to common workplace management practices and the line between government duties and political campaigning.
Since taking office in 2011, Rutherford has shared a hotel room with his executive assistant, Joshua Lanning, at least ten nights while traveling on official business. The two also stayed together dozens of times in the Chicago apartment paid for with campaign funds.
The treasurer billed Illinois taxpayers for the hotels, but reimbursed the state last year for five nights after an internal review determined the travel should have been covered by campaign funds. In an Associated Press interview this month, Rutherford said he shared a room with Lanning only twice on state business, but public records and his office later confirmed it happened more often.
A state government travel guideline says employees are entitled to their own room during travel, and the practice of sharing lodging with a boss is frowned upon in the business world for possibly placing subordinates in uncomfortable situations. Lanning, 28, of Pontiac, has worked since 2008 for Rutherford, who previously was a state legislator.
The shared-room issue has arisen at the same time Rutherford, 58, is defending himself against a federal lawsuit claiming he sexually harassed a different employee and forced him to do political work on government time. Rutherford has strongly denied both allegations, blaming them on dirty politics in the four-way GOP primary among him, businessman Bruce Rauner and state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady. The treasurer accuses Rauner of being behind the lawsuit to sabotage his campaign, a charge Rauner dismisses as "ridiculous."
Earlier this month, the Chicago Sun-Times documented how Rutherford and Lanning traveled together during several foreign trips funded by third parties. The Chicago Tribune reported this week that Rutherford and Lanning had stayed together at least 50 times at the Chicago apartment while campaigning, which Rutherford's office later confirmed. The treasurer's travel practices also were called into question in a recent AP report about his Facebook and Twitter accounts highlighting a mix of government work and political appearances on state-paid trips.
The treasurer defends the room-sharing as simply a way to save money, arguing businesses and even professional sports leagues do it. He insists he only does it during travel in expensive places and on campaign business.
"Our staffs on the campaign, they share rooms when we travel," Rutherford told the AP. "Josh has been with me for years on our operation. There's other businesses where (a) boss and others share."
Lanning did not respond to several requests by the AP for comment. In a 2012 interview with his hometown paper, the Pontiac Daily Leader, he described his job as doing research for the treasurer, handling constituent requests and frequent travel. He has a young son and spends personal time working on Rutherford campaign activities, he told the paper. A Rutherford spokeswoman said the two men's relationship is purely professional.