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Renato Mariotti

Democratic candidate for Attorney General

Renato Mariotti

Renato Mariotti

Democratic candidate for Attorney General

Yale Law School, J.D., 2002; University of Chicago, B.A. in Political Science, 1998.
Attorney; Partner, Thompson Coburn
Past Political/Civic Experience

Responses to our questions

Please explain how you would hit the ground running. On Day 1, what would your primary focus for the office be? How would you reorganize, if at all, the direction of the attorneys who report to you?

On Day 1, I would immediately do the following:

  1. Investigate the Russian attack on our election systems, the extent to which any have been breached, and how we can prepare ourselves for the next attack. The investigation would result in a public report of our findings and recommendations to ensure that we are prepared for the next attack.

  2. Launch a top-down review of the wage theft epidemic in Illinois, including the systems and processes in place in the Governor's office and the Illinois Department of Labor to evaluate and enforce wage theft claims. Wage theft is theft, and it often impacts vulnerable populations. One of the most important jobs that the Attorney General does is to protect the people of Illinois. As I detail on my website, I plan to strengthen enforcement against wage theft.

  3. Establish a Public Corruption task force, including Attorney General staff and outside experts with backgrounds in law enforcement, constitutional law, and government ethics — to establish comprehensive legislative recommendations that would transform the Office of the Attorney General into an independent watchdog responsible to the voters, with the power to issue subpoenas and indictments in criminal corruption matters. I also would launch an internal evaluation of the Office of the Attorney General and its administration of resources to determine the best approach to staff organization and reporting structures. I want teams of attorneys focused on key priorities such as Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Election Security and Public Corruption. I also intend to enhance the role of the Public Access Counselor.

Please explain in detail your legal experience and/or any areas of legal or policy expertise.

I have been a litigator, prosecutor, and trial lawyer for my entire career. After law school, I clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. I worked in private practice as a litigation attorney for five years, where I worked on complex antitrust and securities cases. I then spent more than nine years as a federal prosecutor investigating and prosecuting hundreds of cases in a wide variety of areas including: child exploitation, human trafficking, public corruption, cybercrime, gun trafficking, tax evasion, fraud, obstruction of justice, public corruption, narcotics trafficking, and more.

As part of the Department of Justice's Securities and Commodities Fraud Section, I handled the first-ever indictment and prosecution of a high-frequency trader under the anti-spoofing provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, a major case that signaled a sea change in the government's ability to enforce securities regulations in the era of computer-aided trading. I also secured the convictions of Bogdanov crime family, Block 37 developer Larry Freed, and convicted bank robber Jose Banks, who later escaped from prison and threatened to kill me. Due to the high-profile nature of many of my cases, I was twice featured on American Greed, Bill Kurtis's show about white-collar criminals.

In 2016, I returned to the private sector at the law firm of Thompson Coburn, where I work today, representing clients in many types of high-stakes litigation matters. In my spare time, I have volunteered with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, Cook County's largest provider of civil legal services to people who cannot afford them. I co-chair Lawyers4Choice and serve on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society, an organization of progressive lawyers who fight to uphold the rule of law. I am a strong environmental advocate, and volunteer with the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.

Following the election of Donald Trump, I began speaking out against the President's discriminatory and unconstitutional policies. I appear as a frequent legal contributor and analyst on CNN, MSNBC, and several other media outlets to address these issues. I also advise members of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on their investigation and, in October 2017, I was called to Washington to provide expertise and guidance on executive clemency and other matters. Since Trump's election, I have authored more than twenty-five articles that have critiqued, analyzed, or attacked the President's actions that have appeared in Newsweek, POLITICO, The Washington Post, and other publications.

Have you ever tried a case? Civil or criminal? If so, how many?

Yes. I have tried 17 cases to verdict, 15 of which were jury trials. I have investigated hundreds of cases.

How would you prioritize the resources of the office?

I want teams of attorneys focused on key priorities such as Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Election Security and Public Corruption. I also intend to enhance the role of the Public Access Counselor. Within those areas of focus, I would highlight the following three items in my first year in office: fighting back against the Trump Administration, Economic Justice and Wage Theft, and Election Security.

Should the attorney general's grand jury authority be expanded to intensify the role of the AG in fighting corruption? Or is that a more suitable role for federal prosecutors? Please explain your answer.

I support expanding the Attorney General's mandate in fighting corruption because I believe there should be an independent watchdog that answers directly to the voters. The people of Illinois have lost faith in our government because of the ingrained culture of corruption. I have prosecuted powerful white-collar criminals, bank robbers, and everything in between — I won't be intimidated by the special interests or career politicians in Springfield. As Attorney General, I would work alongside federal prosecutors, state prosecutors, and state agencies to ensure that all available resources are brought to bear to find and fight corruption wherever it exists.

In addition, one of the first things I do when taking office will be to establish a Public Corruption task force — including Attorney General staff and outside experts with backgrounds in law enforcement, constitutional law, and government ethics — to establish comprehensive legislative recommendations that would transform the Office of the Attorney General into a truly independent watchdog, with the power to issue subpoenas and indictments in criminal corruption matters.

What do you view as the top three roles of the Illinois attorney general's office?

  1. Fighting Back Against The Trump Administration: Donald Trump represents a threat to our democracy, our constitutional rights, and our basic system of government. State Attorneys General are the last line of defense against the Trump Administration and they have used the legal system to thwart his agenda. They challenged Trump's unconstitutional travel ban, the end of net neutrality, and the rule limiting access to contraception in the Affordable Care Act amongst many others. This is incredibly effective and can help force real change through the legal system. As Attorney General, my number one priority will be to use this office to stand up for Illinoisans who have their constitutional rights violated by Trump and to limit Trump's attempts to abuse his power. For example, I would take legal action against Trump's discriminatory immigration policies. Specifically, the unconstitutional practice of requiring DACA recipients to provide identifying information to the government under the guise of providing protections, only to then use that very information to deport them. The Affordable Care Act also is under attack because of Trump's cruel and reckless tax plan that repealed the individual mandate, denying thousands of people health care coverage and raising premiums.
  2. Economic Justice: I will use the office of the Attorney General to fight against economic injustice and level the playing field between rich and poor. The first issue I will tackle is the epidemic of wage theft in Illinois. Since 2014, more than $50 million in claims have come before the state where people are being denied the wages they deserve. This is disgraceful, and I will get to the bottom of the broken system that disproportionately impacts the poor and communities of color. No one should be deprived of the wages they are owed, and the state needs to do a better job of cracking down on businesses that refuse to follow the law. I also will fight to ensure that all workers have the opportunity to earn the prevailing wage in Illinois and go after companies that skirt their responsibility to do so. As a prosecutor, I have taken on the banks and corporations who take advantage of working people, and I will root out fraud and economic inequality as Attorney General.
  3. Election Security: Free and safe elections are the foundation of our democracy. We will quickly lose our credibility with our citizens and around the world if the security of our elections continues to be compromised. I want to make Illinois a national leader in election security. As Attorney General, I will lead a full investigation into the Russian attack on our voting systems in Illinois as well as the vulnerability of our voting systems going forward. I will issue a public report of our findings, including recommendations to better defend our system, including the creation of a dedicated election security officer to ensure that the systems remain as secure as possible, an audit of a random sample of ballots in future elections, and a paper trail.

To which areas of focus would you devote the most resources?

As discussed above, I will devote the most resources to Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Election Security and Public Corruption.

What are the greatest challenges facing the next attorney general?

The greatest challenge facing the next Attorney General is to ensure that the Trump Administration does not undermine the fundamental rights of the people of Illinois. The next Attorney General must be prepared to work tirelessly on their own and in conjunction with other attorneys general to protect our democracy, our fundamental rights, and the safety net and equality that ensure a well-functioning society. The next attorney general also must be an independent advocate for the people of Illinois against corruption and those working to maintain political and economic power at the expense of others.

Give us some examples of when you displayed independence from your party or staked out an unpopular position.

I am not a politician. I am running as a Democrat because I believe in progressive values, the importance of protecting working families, and the necessity of fighting back against the agenda of the Trump Administration. I am not beholden to the Democratic Party of Illinois, and I will never take a position solely because a member of the Democratic Party prefers it.

As a federal prosecutor for nearly a decade, I let the facts lead the way. If you broke the law, I was coming after you. I will follow the same set of ethics and values as Attorney General. I will root out corruption wherever it exists, and will fight for the best interests of the people, even if Democrats in Cook County or Springfield prefer a different outcome.

What steps have you taken, or would you take, to maintain the independence of the office from the influence of a governor, legislative leaders or members of your political party?

Again, I am not a political insider and I'm not beholden to any special interests or party apparatus. I will let the facts guide the way and maintain a strict adherence to ethical conduct, and expect every member of my staff to behave the same way. I will advocate for increased transparency at all levels of government. I believe the FOIA process and the Public Access Counselor's office can be more effective and efficient. This means working to ensure that local governments are following the spirit of the law, rather than adhering to the bare minimum in attempt to prevent the disclosure of documents that demonstrate unfavorable, unflattering, or outright criminal behavior.

The Illinois Constitution is vague about the role of the attorney general. How proactive should the attorney general be in injecting himself or herself into issues of education, pensions, state finances, corruption or other issues that don't fall directly under the role of legal adviser?

I view the Attorney General as an advocate for the people. In addition to providing constitutional interpretation of statutes and legislation, the Attorney General can and should play an active role when the rights of any people or group are under attack, laws are being broken or circumvented, and power or position is being used to take advantage of others. As active as the Attorney General should be in these matters, he or she needs to remain independent and insulated from political considerations.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

My father is a cashier at Walmart. He's worked his entire life to support his family. Both of my parents worked two jobs and sacrificed a great deal to so I could have opportunities they never had. There are so many kids out there facing the same sorts of challenges, whose parents also work incredibly hard to make ends meet and provide a path to a better life for their children. Those are the people I will be fighting for as Attorney General.

What distinguishes you from your opponents?

My opponents are going to spend a lot of time and effort coming up with very generous interpretations of their records of achievement in public office or politically appointed positions. The other candidates in this race will argue amongst themselves over which of them is the least ethically challenged. I believe Illinois voters deserve more. I am not a politician or a political insider. I am not beholden to special interests or the political apparatus. I am a lawyer who has spent my career protecting people and prosecuting those who try to abuse the system. I was outspoken in the fight against the injustices and constitutional threats of the Trump Administration long before I decided to run for Attorney General, because I believe the Trump Administration is a threat to our democracy and the rule of law.

Illinois deserves an Attorney General that will unapologetically fight for our institutions and ideals, not another politician who will say whatever it takes to get elected or who wants to use the Attorney General's office as a springboard for higher office. The choice could not be more clear — do the people of Illinois want a career politician beholden to a rigged system, or a career prosecutor and litigator who will aggressively fight in the courtroom and in Springfield on their behalf? I am the only candidate who has lived in the legal system fighting power, fighting economic inequality, fighting injustice, and winning those fights. I will work to make our state a place where workers can thrive, all communities can thrive, and businesses can operate on a fair and level playing field.