- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Two candidates vying to be Illinois’ next chief investment officer have different ideas about how to restore the image of the Treasurer’s office, which has been tarnished by a sexual harassment suit and questions about whether the man leaving the job used taxpayer dollars in mixing state and political business trips.

The race for the treasurer’s post, a traditional stepping stone to higher office, has been marked with unusual intensity as it is the lone open statewide seat without an incumbent on the November ballot.

The candidates have accused each other of flip-flopping on key issues and sparred about who better understands the role of the office.

To improve the office’s image, former House Republican Leader Tom Cross said he wants to create a government integrity unit charged with reviewing state financial documents. Democratic state Sen. Mike Frerichs says he would blunt “cronyism and corruption” with a self-imposed audit of the office tasked with investing taxpayer funds, and publish his schedule online for more transparency.

Both say the office needs to reduce travel costs spent on the I-Cash unclaimed property program, after current Treasurer Dan Rutherford was criticized for using state funds to travel to program events throughout Illinois that were held in close proximity to political fundraisers.

“There are innovative and efficient ways to promote the program through other means,” Frerichs, of Champaign, wrote in response to an AP questionnaire.

Cross, too, says there is “no need for the Treasurer to travel throughout the state at the cost of taxpayers” to promote the program, which allows residents to hunt for unclaimed cash, stocks and bonds turned over to the state through an online database.

Rutherford, who had defended the convergence of activities as the byproduct of him working long hours for Illinois, saw his GOP primary bid for governor fizzle last spring after the harassment suit by a former employee surfaced. He has vehemently denied those allegations, but his office did not respond to several requests for comment.

Cross, 56, brings several advantages to the race, including wider name recognition due to his two decades in Springfield and in party leadership, particularly in the important independent-voting suburbs of Chicago.

But Frerichs, 41, is considerably better-funded, and argues that as a past Champaign County auditor he has the necessary financial expertise. He recently made a $1.1 million television ad purchase - considered to be one of the largest commitments outside of the governor’s race.

Cross has accused Frerichs of financial mismanagement as county auditor, and highlighted a dispute over unpaid taxes for Frerichs’ legislative office.

Frerichs said the legislative office legally should not have been billed, but later did pay the $1,800 levy. However, on Monday the Illinois Department of Revenue reversed its earlier decision, and granted Frerichs an exemption.

He refers to Cross as a “Springfield insider” and charges that Cross - who made a bid for attorney general last summer - views the Treasurer’s office as a “consolation prize.”

Other issues where the candidates differ:

- Frerichs has criticized Rutherford for investing Illinois dollars “overseas.” Cross notes that the only such investment the office makes is in government bonds issued by Israel. He questioned whether the state should end that practice. Frerichs clarified his position in an interview, noting he supports investing in Israeli bonds, but says “we can do more in Illinois.”

- Cross supports merging the offices of the treasurer and the comptroller, and has sponsored a resolution to do so while in the legislature. He says they share many goals and merging them would save money. Frerichs said voters should decide the issue.

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Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter, http://twitter.com/kerrylester

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