Report: Internships given based on clout at Illinois agency
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — An independent review of the Illinois state treasurer’s office released Monday found problems with internship hiring that favored those with political connections and other programs in need of overhaul.
Democrat Mike Frerichs, having reached the symbolic benchmark 100 days in office, released the results of the audit he promised after becoming the state’s chief investment officer in January. He said he will closely review the report’s recommendations and emphasized initiatives on which he has embarked.
“This report outlines our efforts with education, access and opportunity to help all Illinoisans,” Frerichs told a state Capitol news conference. In these first 100 days, we’ve made progress on important items that families across our state brought to our attention last year.”
Accounting firm Plante Moran’s review, offered to the state without charge, found trouble spots in an office still reeling from sexual harassment allegations against previous Republican Treasurer Dan Rutherford by an ex-employee.
The report highlighted a paid internship program that gave positions to young people with connections to influential politicians, campaign donors and lobbyists. The “clout-heavy” program had no formal procedures for how the interns were recruited or managed, the audit said.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last summer that Rutherford solicited recommendations from Chicago aldermen and legislators and himself recommended a member of the wealth Pritzker family a year after a relative donated $50,000 to Rutherford’s campaign. It reported the number of interns grew from eight when Rutherford took office in 2011 to 58 in 2013 when Rutherford launched a failed bid for governor.
Rutherford did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday.
Frerichs said he has discontinued offering a large, paid internship program.
“We’re going to have a scaled-back program that has a much greater defined hiring process,” the former state senator said.
The report also found that a scholarship framework funded by fees from the office’s college savings program lacks basic management rules. Frerichs’ office said 300 scholarships averaging $1,000 were awarded after 2006 without proper record-keeping, management and distribution.
Frerichs has implemented an “Employee Bill of Rights” which spells out prohibitions on an officeholder requiring employees to do campaign work on state time — which is already illegal — and outlines ways workers can report abuse if they feel pressured to do political work.
Those were allegations also made by former Rutherford employee Edmund Michalowski, whose federal lawsuit in February 2014 claiming repeated, unwanted sexual advances by Rutherford sunk the former Republican star’s campaign for governor.
The lawsuit is ongoing. Frerichs declined to comment on it Monday. But he repeated a pledge to release a taxpayer-funded internal report commissioned by Rutherford after the lawsuit has ended. Frerichs reneged on a campaign promise to make the report public after he sought advice from Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the state’s lawyer in the lawsuit, who told him to keep it under wraps.
Treasurer’s office audit report: http://www.treasurer.il.gov/