On Jan. 11, Renato Mariotti appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general in the March 2018 primary:

My name is Renato Mariotti. I was born here in Chicago to parents who didn’t go to college, and both worked two jobs to put me through school. Thanks to their hard work, I went to the University of Chicago and Yale Law School and after that I became a federal prosecutor. Pat Fitzgerald hired me, and I spent almost a decade fighting white-collar crime. Going after people who took advantage of the system and cheated working families like mine and rigged the system for their benefit. After that, I went back into private practice a little over a year-and-a-half ago, and I’ve become an outspoken critic of the Trump administration, and somebody who is an activist both online and offline speaking about the abuses of the Trump administration and how they are endangering our constitutional rights.  

My number one cause, and it will come as no surprise from what I said a moment ago, is what I like to call economic justice. People like my parents who are working hard and struggling to make ends meet, things haven’t gotten better from them. Since the ’80s or ’90s, they have continued to struggle, with people at the top who are taking advantage of them are getting richer. And we have an administration now in Donald Trump who is trying to do everything possible to slant things in their benefit and the same thing has happened in our state. So, for example on Day 1 I am going to be focusing on the problem of wage theft in Illinois. We have over 50 million dollars in claims that have gone unfilled — workers who have not gotten the money they are owed. I’m going to get to the bottom of that.


The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Illinois attorney general a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Renato Mariotti submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:

QUESTION: The Illinois attorney general has broad discretion in choosing the office’s priorities. What specific cause or causes would you pursue? Please avoid a generic topic or general category in your answer.

ANSWER: On day one, I would immediately do the following: initiate an investigation into 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; launch a top-down review of the wage theft epidemic in Illinois, including the systems in place within the Governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Labor to enforce, evaluate and respond to wage-related complaints; and 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.

During my term as Attorney General, I would have three primary areas of priority:

Fighting Back Against The Trump Administration — Donald Trump represents a threat to our democracy, our constitutional rights and our basic system of government. Since his inauguration, state Attorneys General have used the legal system to thwart his agenda. They challenged Trump’s travel ban, the end of net neutrality, and the rule limiting access to contraception in the Affordable Care Act, among many others. These Attorneys General have done this for good reason—it is an effective way to use the legal system to limit Trump’s abuses of power. 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. State Attorneys General are the last line of defense against the Trump Administration, and I will do everything I can to stop Trump’s assault on working families, the poor, the sick, and communities of color. 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.

Finally, Governor Rauner and President Trump are working together to secure a favorable Supreme Court ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case. This would hurt working people and undermine the collective bargaining process for state employees. We may lose this fight due to the Republican Party’s refusal to consider President Obama’s appoint of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and it represents yet another example of Governor Rauner’s number one priority: decimating organized labor. If, as expected, the Supreme Court rules against AFSCME, I would advocate for state and federal legislation that would prevent the implementation of unfair labor practices in Illinois and maintain collective bargaining rights. I also would work to ensure that all public employees are provided sufficient information about the benefits of joining or remaining in a union.

Finally, Governor Rauner and President Trump are working together to secure a favorable Supreme Court ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case. This would hurt working people and undermine the collective bargaining process for state employees. We may lose this fight due to the Republican Party’s refusal to consider President Obama’s appoint of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, and it represents yet another example of Governor Rauner’s number one priority: decimating organized labor. If, as expected, the Supreme Court rules against AFSCME, I would advocate for state and federal legislation that would prevent the implementation of unfair labor practices in Illinois and maintain collective bargaining rights. I also would work to ensure that all public employees are provided sufficient information about the benefits of joining or remaining in a union.

Economic Justice – My parents didn’t go to college and both of them worked two jobs to put me through school. Working people like my parents keep getting squeezed by laws and policies that only benefit the rich and powerful. 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—including within the Governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Labor—that disproportionally 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 earn the prevailing wage in Illinois and go after companies that skirt their responsibility to pay what the law requires. As a prosecutor, I took on the banks and corporations who were taking advantage of working people, and I will root out fraud and economic inequality as Attorney General.

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 our election systems, the extent to which any have been breached, and whether any are subject to serious threats of breach going forward. Our investigation’s report will provide recommendations to better defend our system including appointing a dedicated state election security officer to ensure that the systems remain as secure as possible, to monitor any ongoing threats, and to accumulate best practices and up-to-date security measures; leveraging assistance from the academic and private sector; and improving coordination and communication among election officials throughout the state.


Renato Mariotti

Running for: Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general

Political/civic background: Private citizen, former federal prosecutor

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Yale Law School, J.D., 2002; University of Chicago, B.A. in Political Science, 1998.

Campaign website: RenatoMariotti.com


QUESTION: What would you do as attorney general to identify and combat public corruption at the state, county and local levels?

ANSWER: I am not a politician or a political insider. I am not beholden to special interests or the party apparatus. When I was a federal prosecutor, I investigated public corruption. I let the facts lead the way and adhered to the principle that no one is above the law. I will follow the same set of ethics and values as Attorney General. Many voters in Illinois have lost faith in our government due to Springfield’s – and frankly, Chicago’s – culture of corruption. Elected officials need to be held to a higher standard. In an effort to change the culture of corruption, the Attorney General should be empowered with greater responsibilities and oversight to more effectively address public corruption. I will be a fearless advocate for more transparency and conduct swift investigations into unethical practices to make examples of behavior that can no longer be tolerated.

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QUESTION: Why have the people of Illinois had to rely solely on federal prosecutors, with little or no contribution from the state attorney general’s office, to do the job of rooting out local public corruption? Or do you disagree with this assessment?

ANSWER: Politicians specifically limited the power of the Attorney General in preventing the office from playing a prominent role in public corruption. I have seen the power of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to fight corruption firsthand as a former federal prosecutor. It is effective in ending the careers of politicians and other individuals who break our laws and betray the public trust. But fighting public corruption is too important, and the problem too pervasive, to entrust this responsibility solely with federal prosecutors. The people of Illinois should have an advocate that answers directly to them. As Attorney General, I would take on the challenge of rooting out corruption in Chicago, Springfield and anywhere else it might arise in Illinois. I would work to ensure that all available resources are put to work and coordinated to fight corruption wherever it exists.

QUESTION: What is the responsibility of the attorney general’s office in supporting and enforcing federal laws and the policies of the Trump administration? Please be specific in identifying any laws or policies you believe should or should not be rigorously enforced.

ANSWER: The Illinois Attorney General is not required to support or enforce unconstitutional or improper federal laws or the policies of the Trump Administration. To the contrary, I will aggressively oppose those policies whenever appropriate. Our President is so unhinged that it is impossible to predict what he will attack next, so we have to be vigilant. As we watch the Trump Administration repeatedly engage in unethical behavior—by undermining the rule of law, completely disregarding the truth and basic ethical standards—it is plain to see the importance of an Attorney General that will unapologetically fight for the simple principles of justice and public accountability.

The specific list of policies and laws that I would oppose is a long one, as the Trump Administration shocks our conscience almost daily. I would:

Oppose the Trump Administration’s immigration policies by fighting back against efforts to use information obtained under DACA to deport people who have only known life as an American.

Oppose efforts to hold federal funding hostage until Illinois imposes draconian federal immigration enforcement practices.

Ensure that Transgender Illinoisans have a right to serve their country in the military and get equal protection under the law.

Be first in line to protect the environment when Scott Pruitt and his hand-selected regional director weaken polluting standards, ignore climate change and hand the environment over to corporations.

Advocate in Springfield for net neutrality rules for any Internet provider operating in or through Illinois.

The list could go on and include the Trump Administration’s efforts to enrich individuals at the expense of the American people, to destroy health care, to undermine the First Amendment and reject civil rights, and to ignore consumer protection, ethics, and election security. I will vigorously oppose any and all efforts undermining who we are as a nation, and I will make sure that the State of Illinois is at the forefront of these efforts, building and joining coalitions of Attorneys General from across the country to resist illegal or unconstitutional actions by the Trump Administration.

QUESTION: Attorney General Madigan joined an amicus brief in a federal suit opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to cut off federal public safety grants to “sanctuary” cities. Would you have done the same? Madigan also has called on Gov. Rauner to reject any request by the Trump administration to use local law enforcement officers as “immigration officials.” What would you have done?

ANSWER: I support Attorney General Madigan’s approach and would continue and expand on her efforts. I believe that it is unconstitutional to induce DACA recipients to provide identifying information to the government under the guise of providing protections, only to then use that very information to forcibly deport them later. As Attorney General, I would bring a suit to stop this unconstitutional practice when the Trump Administration uses the information provided by a DACA recipient to deport him or her. I will work to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for those young people who call Illinois home, enroll in our universities, and who hope to graduate and work for their piece of the American Dream.

As Attorney General, I will be committed to defending the rights of immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers. My grandfather came to America on a boat, looking for a better life. I will ensure that in Illinois, immigrants are granted all available Constitutional protections, and I will protect the human rights of the men, women, and children who seek a new home in the United States and safe harbor from the world’s most dangerous places.

When the federal government enacts policies that promote racial or religious discrimination, tear apart families, and send children to countries that they have never known, I will do everything I can to fight back. I will vigorously oppose any and all efforts to use religious or racial discrimination to institute Trump’s travel ban, and I will make sure that the State of Illinois is at the forefront of these efforts, building and joining coalitions of Attorneys General from across the country to resist illegal or unconstitutional actions by the Trump Administration.

QUESTION: What would you do to address the problem of gun violence? And if you say you would “take on” the NRA, how exactly would you do that?

ANSWER: Mass shootings continue to devastate communities throughout the country. There is no shortage of legislative recommendations to address this problem, but lawmakers repeatedly fail to translate these recommendations into laws. Similarly, Illinois’ largest city is plagued by gun violence, an issue that has its roots in systemic inequality, oppression and economic disparity. Again, our elected leadership has consistently ignored these problems or taken steps to exacerbate them with policies that favor the privileged few at the expense of working people and communities of color. No one law or legal challenge is going to fix decades of neglect and injustice. We need fundamental changes to our government in Illinois, and in Washington, if we are going to tackle gun violence in a meaningful way.

We need to start treating gun violence as a symptom of a larger and deeply rooted problem in our society. If we are not able to tackle the root causes of violence – economic disparity, educational inequity, lack of healthcare options, food deserts and institutional racism – than too many of our communities will continue to live in fear. We have suffered under a failure of leadership, and every elected official has a responsibility to advocate and implement policies that take a holistic approach to gun violence, rather than focusing solely on criminality.

As Attorney General, I will fight to keep guns out of the hands of people who have forfeited their ownership rights, and I will fight to fully enforce penalties for anyone who chooses to use a gun to commit a crime. I will do everything I can to end the trafficking of illegal weapons to illegal owners, just as I did when I was a federal prosecutor.

QUESTION: Everybody running for this office promises to be an advocate for ordinary people. What, in concrete terms, does that mean?

ANSWER:  Neither of my parents went to college. My dad didn’t even graduate from high school. They both worked two jobs to help put me through school. My dad is still working as a cashier at Walmart, and doesn’t receive the hours and wages he deserves because of Walmart’s anti-union stance. While my 76-year-old father continues to work at Walmart, one of my opponents won an award for the work he did as Walmart’s lawyer.

As a former prosecutor, I spent my career going after criminals who tried to abuse the system. I prosecuted and won the first case ever brought against a high-frequency trader, and wasn’t afraid to go after individuals and institutions defrauding the public. I’m not afraid of the tough fights, and I want to fight for hard-working families like my parents against a system that is stacked against them.

I will prioritize efforts to level the playing field for working families in Illinois. As I’ve mentioned earlier, one of my top priorities will be to investigate the state’s failure to enforce and effectively address wage theft. Companies will often deprive workers of the salaries they are entitled to and the law allows those workers to file a claim for their illegally denied wages. Employers that engage in wage theft are supposed to face penalties and fines, particularly repeat offenders. In Illinois, only one in four workers recoup wages within a year. The state has failed to deliver millions in unpaid claims and dismisses almost 60 percent of cases without providing a reason for the dismissal. The process is complicated by design to discourage participation from the mostly low-wage workers who are victims of wage theft. Reports indicate that the state shields many companies from facing any penalties by allowing them to settle rather than face formal violations or fines. I will conduct a thorough investigation of the Illinois Department of Labor’s practices around wage theft enforcement and publish findings and recommendations for corrective action.

I also will prioritize environmental protection for the benefit of working families in Illinois. I believe that protecting and preserving our environment is essential to our health and long-term economic prosperity, particularly for working people who often bear the brunt of harmful environmental policies. As Attorney General, I will use every tool and resource of the office to protect this fundamental pillar of our society, including the following:

I will create an Environmental Policy and Enforcement Task Force, with members of the Attorney General’s Office and environmental experts. This Task Force will assist the Environmental Crimes Division and Environmental Enforcement Division by evaluating recent efforts to protect the environment at the state-level, recommending priorities for investigation and enforcement, and suggesting potential legislative enhancements to protect the environment in Illinois.

I will be a forceful advocate for fairness and equality in our water policies. There are reports that the poorest communities in Illinois pay as much as six times more for their water than the most affluent communities, and minorities routinely pay more for water than their neighbors in predominantly white communities. These reports also indicate that the infrastructure in some of these poor and minority communities are failing – leading to significant water loss. As Attorney General, I will fight to ensure that clean water is available – and available equitably – to everyone in our state.

As Attorney General, I also intend to stand up to special interests harming our environment, including the coal industry and agribusiness. I will evaluate and investigate the coal industry in Illinois to ensure it complies with appropriate standards, and will pursue additional legislative and regulatory directives to protect our environment. Illinois coal operations, like Prairie State, remain a significant source of carbon pollution and pose a serious health threat. The Trump Administration has pandered to the coal lobby and reversed efforts to bring the energy industry further into the 21st century. These policies create real risk to our climate and our long-term health.

I also will advocate for legislative improvements to Illinois’ enforcement and oversight structure. Under current law, before the Attorney General can act, our legislature has tied the hands of our state regulators and directed disputes to an arbitration process. The Attorney General’s Office should be a powerful weapon against polluters and special interests, and I will work to make sure that all polluters answer for the damage they have caused. As Attorney General, I will make the environment one of our top priorities, and will fight the disastrous policies of the Trump Administration.

As a final example, I will be a strong advocate for Illinois consumers. The Trump Administration is abdicating its responsibility to American consumers and installing leadership to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The responsibility to protect Illinois consumer now falls squarely on the Illinois Attorney General. I have great respect for Lisa Madigan, who has done an admirable job for Illinois consumers. We must now do more. I will aggressively enforce Illinois’ consumer fraud statutes. I will fight against provisions compelling arbitration, in court and in Springfield. I will fight for the right of Illinois consumers to pursue class action relief, and take up causes on their behalf when they cannot. I will fight to protect the interests of consumers against large corporations and special interests, and ensure a level playing field for consumers and small business. My office will work in concert with Attorneys General across the country to protect the interests of consumers.

QUESTION: How in general would you follow or depart from the approach to the job taken by Lisa Madigan?

ANSWER: Lisa Madigan has been a champion for Illinois children, consumers and taxpayers and has skillfully handled her responsibilities under challenging circumstances.

Illinois is facing new and evolving challenges and my experience and background, as someone outside the political system, will strengthen the offices ability to address the root problems facing Illinois.

I will do everything possible to more aggressively fight back against the Trump Administration’s disastrous policies, including his attempts to gut our healthcare system, his failure to enforce environmental laws, and his immigration policies.

I will take a more active approach towards combating public corruption. Many voters in Illinois have lost faith in our government due to Springfield’s 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 in Springfield. We need to go above the minimum that the law requires. I will advocate for more transparency and for conducting investigations of unethical practices in order to draw attention to conduct that needs to end.

I also will more aggressively enforce environmental laws, including bringing suits in federal court and tackling Agribusinesses that rig the markets and pollute our air and water.

I would not have taken the same approach on state employee back pay in the early 2010’s. Attorney General Madigan appealed a circuit judge ruling that ordered contractually obligated back pay to be paid to 30,000 state employees even after the Governor agreed to accept the ruling. This would have unfairly impacted Illinois working families and went back on a contractual obligation.


Check out our profiles on other candidates in this race:

Scott Drury

Sharon Fairley

Aaron Goldstein 

Pat Quinn

Kwame Raoul 

Nancy Rotering

Jesse Ruiz

Gary Grasso

Erika Harold