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Auditor General Mautino wants Supreme Court to nix finding he mixed personal spending with campaign spending

Madison County Record

Thursday, October 8, 2020  |  Article  |  By Steve Korris

Auditor General (21) , Ethics, Campaign Reform, Transparency (12a)

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino stands before the Supreme Court, not as a guardian of public money but as a former legislator who spent almost $400,000 in violation of campaign law. 

He seeks to reverse a Fourth District Appellate Court ruling that ordered the Illinois State Board of Elections to increase a $5,000 fine on his former campaign committee. 

Mautino’s committee hasn’t paid that fine because the committee dissolved, sparing him any consequence except he can’t run for office. 

He escaped a heavier fine when the election board deadlocked on whether he used campaign funds for personal purposes. 

The election board’s four Democrats voted for him, and the board’s four Republicans voted against him. 

David Cooke of Streator, who filed the original complaint against the committee, appealed to Fourth District judges in Springfield for a finding of personal use. 

They ruled in Cooke’s favor, finding the committee inevitably mixed personal spending with campaign spending. 

They found the committee spent $225,109.19 through a charge account at Happy’s gas station in Spring Valley from 1999 to 2015. 

That averages more than $250 a week. 

They found the committee spent $159,028 by writing checks to Spring Valley Bank and withdrawing cash. 

That averages more than $180 a week. 

The Fourth District remanded Cooke’s complaint to the board to determine whether the committee violated the law knowingly, which would affect the fine. 

The complaint didn’t return to the board, because Mautino’s lawyer Adam Vaught of Chicago carried it across the street to the Supreme Court. 

Vaught filed the committee’s brief on Sept. 16, claiming the Fourth District improperly substituted its factual determination for that of the board. 

“It is the board’s statutory responsibility to decide partisan political matters such as the matter at hand,” Vaught wrote. 

“It is not a reviewing court’s role to serve as a tie breaking vote when a partisan deadlock has occurred.” 

He wrote that the committee dissolved on Dec. 31, 2015, and Mautino assumed the office of Illinois Auditor General one day later.

The role of Auditor General is to review financial records of state agencies. 

“When the committee was dissolved, most of the records were disposed of in consultation with the board,” Vaught wrote. 

“Thus, at the time the complaint was filed, few records remained to substantiate the reported expenditures.” 

Vaught wrote that former committee treasurer Patricia Maunu testified that Happy’s provided gas and repairs for Mautino and campaign employees, that the board never in 15 years informed her that her method of reporting the bank expenditures was improper and that the Fourth District cited no evidence to show the committee spent in excess of fair market value for gas or repairs. 

He wrote that Cooke didn’t present any evidence that payments to Happy’s were used to conceal expenditures to other vendors or individuals. 

“At most, he speculated that this occurred because the committee spent a significant amount on gas and repairs over a 16 year period,” Vaught wrote. 

“The board members voting in favor of the committee were right to disregard his speculation. 

“As these members noted, the board could only determine that the committee purchased goods or services clearly in excess of fair market value if they knew what those goods and services were.” 

He wrote that the Fourth District found it inevitable that Mautino didn’t return excess cash to the bank though there was no evidence that there was extra cash. 

“As for the money withdrawn from the bank, complainant presented no evidence of what goods or services the committee bought using the cash withdrawn from the bank,” Vaught wrote. 

“Thus, he failed to prove that any of that cash was spent on items or services clearly in excess of fair market value. 

“So long as a campaign committee pays market value for a particular item, the fair market value regulation does not say how that item must be used. 

“The fact that the committee reported the checks cashed at the bank as expenditures to the bank rather than expenditures to the ultimate recipients of the cash is irrelevant. 

“The reports say nothing about whether the expenditures the committee actually made were in excess of fair market value. 

“Fewer individuals will be willing to assist in campaigns if they have to pay for their own gas and repairs while doing campaign work.” 

Vaught practices at Hinshaw and Culbertson in Chicago, where William Roberts, Anthony Jacob and Lari Dierks also represent Mautino’s committee.