SPRINGFIELD – Dan Rutherford’s Twitter account chronicles the Illinois treasurer fixing home appliances, jogging on the treadmill and eating his sister’s famous goulash.
It also highlights the gubernatorial candidate’s regular practice of tacking political events onto official government travel funded by state taxpayers.
Most politicians go to great lengths not to publicize when they switch between government and campaign work – even in Illinois, where experts say ethics laws separating them aren’t as specific as the federal government’s rules.
Rutherford, however, uniquely broadcasts even the most mundane details of the trips through Twitter, a catch-all for his personal, government and campaign activities.
“Just arriving to the DuPage Township Republicans Sunday Brunch fundraiser where I will be the guest speaker,” Rutherford tweeted one Sunday last fall. Hours later, he posted that he was speaking at a Joe Neal for Illinois Senate event and at a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling.
Those fundraisers came during his stay in the Chicago suburbs to promote the I-Cash program, which reconnects Illinois residents with financial property they misplaced. While the costs were hardly exorbitant – he stayed at a Red Roof Inn for $70 a night – the reports that Rutherford filed with the state don’t mention the political events but justify the expenses for “performing duties as state treasurer.”
Rutherford explains his constant tweeting as an attempt to bolster his human side during the campaign. He also defends his mixing of activities as the byproduct of him working long hours for Illinois.
“I don’t apologize for any of the travel I or my staff put in,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “I do personal stuff sometimes during the workday because I’m working 24/7.”
The AP found more than 20 such mixed-purpose trips by Rutherford over an 18-month period through a review of his social media posts, expense reports and official schedule. Half a dozen were in Chicago, where the treasurer has an office, but the others were in smaller towns across the state tied to the unclaimed property events.
Now one of four Republicans running for governor in 2014, he topped all six state constitutional officers for state-paid trips during that time, according to the state comptroller’s travel records. Even Gov. Pat Quinn spent less, as he seldom makes overnight trips when he doesn’t stay in the governor’s mansion in Springfield or his home in Chicago.
In all, Rutherford spent $8,319 on travel in 2012, according to the comptroller’s office. Quinn spent $4,469 and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon $6,919. In the first six months of 2013, Rutherford spent $4,614 – twice as much as Simon and nearly four times as much as Quinn. Rutherford is unique in that the vast majority of in-state travel expenses were for hotels.
Rutherford, of Chenoa, said his office’s I-Cash events are the important “anchor” his political schedule is based around while traveling. He said he doesn’t claim per diems, and he regularly turns down a security detail. And he said his campaign committee and other party funds pay for lodging, including when he was Illinois chairman for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign in 2012.
But the state picked up some of those hotel tabs, too, such as two nights in October last year when he stayed in Schaumburg and Chicago.
“Off to my 4th event today, some on behalf of @MittRomney candidates, while 4 events are official State Treasurer,” he tweeted.
Social media can be a tricky business for elected officials, and Rutherford’s eagerness to share daily details has raised some eyebrows. In September, he nearly pre-empted his own choice of a lieutenant governor when he re-tweeted someone else’s speculation. On Facebook last year, he described how he got his tie wet while replacing a toilet seat.
“This is my Facebook and I’ve decided to post what my life is really like, not what some expect to hear,” he wrote at the time.
The proximity of Rutherford’s political events to the I-Cash appearances raises questions about which activities drove how the locations were chosen.
David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said there are no “hard and fast” rules in Illinois for separating campaign and government work. The state’s ethics law states that a public official “shall not intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time.”
Morrison said public officials should be out explaining what they’re doing, but not using publicity activities to “augment their campaign work.”
“In this case, it’s kind of a question of, ‘Is the cart before the horse?’” he said.
The I-Cash program, around since the 1990s, has seen increased success under Rutherford’s watch. Under the program, residents can hunt for unclaimed cash, stocks and bonds turned over to the state. The program is conducted through an online database, but Rutherford said he appears at events to draw more attention to the program.
Such appearances were not the practice of his predecessors. Republican State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who was treasurer from 1995-2007, launched the program in 1999. Even then, such resources weren’t spent for the Republican to travel and promote it, her current spokesman Brad Hahn said.
Rutherford’s predecessor, Alexi Giannoulias, was reimbursed $1,955 for travel in 2007, records show. But the comptroller’s office said no specific travel reimbursements were found for him between 2008 and 2011.
Rutherford said he has no second thoughts about his expenses.
“Why would I vouch for them if they weren’t [legitimate]?” he asked.
Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter, https://twitter.com/kerrylester