Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford's office has offered paid internships to multiple young people with connections to influential politicians, campaign donors and lobbyists, according to a published report.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Saturday that Rutherford's office kept a list of internship applicants and the name of the person who referred them. But a spokeswoman for Rutherford said clout played no role in who got the internships.
The office sends letters each year to Chicago aldermen and members of the Illinois Legislature, asking them to refer applicants. Among those who did so were House Speaker Michael Madigan and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, both Democrats, as well as Republican lawmakers.
Rutherford himself recommended a 16-year-old member of the wealthy Pritzker family for a college internship. That person -- who turned 17 during the 2011 internship and was paid a total of $1,892 -- was hired one year after a relative donated $50,000 to Rutherford's campaign fund. The same family member gave $4,000 to Rutherford's campaign fund this year.
Rutherford Spokeswoman Mary Frances Bragiel said the Pritzker family's campaign contribution and the internship were absolutely not connected. She also said the intern worked for only six weeks. The office also denied the list of referrals was a "clout list."
"In sending out the letters to the members of the legislature and Chicago aldermen -- it's a government office and who better to know about internships in state government than elected officials?" said Loriann McCabb, Rutherford's deputy chief of staff.
Documents provided to the newspaper showed the number of internships offered grew steadily after Rutherford took office. In his predecessor's final year, the office had eight paid interns. That number grew to 48 in 2011. There were 58 in 2013 -- the year Rutherford launched a failed bid for the Republican nomination for governor. The Sun-Times report didn't specify how many of those internships were given to people with some kind of political connections.
According to numbers provided by the treasurer's office, as many as 73 interns worked in the office in 2003. This year there are 21.
Office counsel Neil Olson said Rutherford expanded the program partly because he wanted more political and geographical diversity in who was hired. Olson also said he wasn't aware of any required process for how interns are selected.
Rutherford's office said interns make $9.50 per hour and are mainly assigned to work in the I-Cash property recovery program, where they have helped return more than $100 million to Illinois residents each year he has been in office.