SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Republican candidate for treasurer Tom Cross’ campaign accused his Democratic opponent Tuesday of financial mismanagement and political patronage, stirring controversy in the race for a typically overlooked statewide office.
At a string of stops around central Illinois, Cross’ campaign detailed the demise of an early retirement buyout program proposed in 2003 by Mike Frerichs, then a newly appointed auditor for Champaign County. Frerichs pitched the program as a good tool to deal with budgetary problems for the county board.
But the Early Retirement Initiative program failed to achieve savings, and instead caused the county’s unfunded liability to increase by more than $2 million, and increased the county’s annual contribution to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
Champaign County later had $2.75 million in bonds issued to pay off the funding shortfall and Frerichs was replaced as the county agent who dealt with the retirement fund.
Cross also accused Frerichs of improperly pushing the county to hire two local Democrats – one of them his former campaign manager – who were ill equipped for the positions.
Cross, a state representative from Oswego and former House Republican leader, was represented by supporters at the events by former federal prosecutor and past Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady and a former Champaign County clerk.
Brady called the allegations “two critical issues” in state Sen. Michael Frerichs “abilities required for the office and his judgment.”
Frerichs, of Champaign, issued a written statement to The Associated Press confirming basic facts behind the allegations but denying wrongdoing.
Instead, he decried the Cross attack as “revisionist history.”
“Tom Cross’ media tour highlights exactly what is wrong with his run for treasurer: loose with the facts and worried more about running against his opponent than running with a vision for the office,” Zach Koutsky, Frerichs’ campaign manager said.
Frerichs blamed the retirement program losses on market forces and decisions made by county leaders. Tuesday, Koutsky noted the county board changed its management of the program as part of, “a greater restructuring plan by the board, not a criticism of Frerichs’ work as auditor.”
Frerichs also said he never employed the Democrats in his post as auditor.
The lawmakers are vying to replace outgoing Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who lost a GOP primary bid for governor in March.
The race for the lone open statewide seat on Nov. 4 ballot has already seen more barbs than average traded between the candidates. Cross, who is currently the better funded of the two, has been leading the offensive, issuing blasts critiquing his opponent’s record at the county and in the state Senate.
The accusations of patronage and mismanagement follow allegations circulated by the Cross campaign late last week that Frerichs didn’t pay $1,800 in back taxes and interest. Frerichs at first disputed the county’s determination that he owed the money. His campaign said he put a check in the mail covering the amount last Friday.
Frerichs has also stumbled recently in calling for the state of Illinois shun investments in Israeli companies after the war in Gaza started, which Cross said would hurt Illinois the investment returns and pensioners.