By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network
A State Board of Elections hearing examiner hopes to issue a report May 15 about whether Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino violated an order to amend campaign expense reports detailing tens of thousands of dollars in payments to a bank and service station in his then legislative district.
Liberty Justice Center attorney Jeffrey Schwab said Thursday that Mautino’s now defunct campaign fund can’t amend reports even if it wanted to “because regardless they would have violated the election code.” Schwab represents Streator resident David Cooke, who filed a complaint with the elections board against Mautino’s campaign committee.
At question is more than $225,000 in payments from Mautino’s campaign fund to a service station from 1999 to 2015 and over $159,000 to a bank from 2000 to 2015.
Schwab said between 2014 and 2015, nearly $34,000 was given to Happy’s Service Station in Spring Valley for repairs and gas to campaign staff vehicles and personal vehicles of Mautino, his wife, children and others.
Schwab said the campaign should have reimbursed the drivers directly, not the service station, based off miles traveled. Instead, the campaign was just filling up gas tanks and paying for repairs with no true accounting, Schwab said. The gas the campaign claims to have purchased over 16 years would equate to more than 35,000 miles every year, he added.
“And I’ll just note that the circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles, so Mr. Mautino could have traveled the earth over 16 years more than 16 times,” Schwab said.
Schwab also noted Mautino ran unopposed in four of those eight election cycles.
The Spring Valley Bank received more than $69,000 from Mautino’s campaign between 2014 and 2015. Schwab said those payments were in checks for round numbers in $50 increments. The campaign said the money was meant for other vendors for things such as poll watchers or phone banks. Schwab responded that those vendors should be the ones listed, not the bank.
“Even if they would have amended [campaign expense reports], they still couldn’t have complied,” Schwab said. “So they couldn’t amend, because what they did was not legal.”
Mautino attorney Sergio Acosta said some blame belongs with the elections board.
“We’re not going to dispute, the law is the law, with respect to what is required here. But the [elections] board itself has been inconsistent in its communications with the campaign,” Acosta said.
Mautino was not present at Thursday’s hearing and has asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because he also is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
There also was back and forth about the deposition of Mautino’s campaign treasurer. Acosta said the treasurer believed she was following the law in how she filed campaign expense reports.
Acosta also brought up campaign records of two Mautino critics, Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, and Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton.
After the hearing, Wehrli said that was a “feeble attempt to silence those who brought alleged criminal activities forward of a lieutenant to Speaker Michael Madigan who is now the auditor general.”
Ives said Mautino’s attorneys were trying to distract from the fact the state’s chief watchdog is also under federal investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating Mautino’s campaign spending.
“We have been the biggest critics for Mautino for not being qualified and for obvious ethical problems,” Ives said. “He should not be the chief watchdog for the taxpayers of the state of Illinois. We’ve got receipts. He’s got a federal investigation, and it’s appalling.”
Attorneys from both sides were asked to file memos to the hearing examiner by May 1. The hearing examiner wants to issue a decision before the next elections board monthly meeting, set for May 15.
The Liberty Justice Center is a partner to INN’s parent organization, Illinois Policy Institute.