An Illinois appeals court ruled the Illinois Board of Elections should consider fining Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino for alleged campaign finance irregularities, committed while Mautino was a state representative.
The Aug. 19 ruling was penned by Justice James Knecht of the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield. Justices Lisa Holder White and John Turner concurred. The decision favored David W. Cooke who had accused Mautino of campaign finance law violations before the state elections board.
Mautino, a Democrat, was state representative for the 76th District from 1991-2015. In 2016, he was appointed state auditor general. Mautino is from Spring Valley, a city in Bureau County, about 100 miles west of Chicago.
Ill. Auditor General Frank Mautino | None
Questions were raised in early 2016 about spending from 1999-2015 at Happy's Super Service Station in Spring Valley by Mautino's campaign committee. According to records, $225,109 in committee money was spent at Happy's for fuel and auto repairs, even though Mautino's committee did not own or lease any vehicles.
During roughly those same years, Mautino and the committee treasurer also withdrew $159,028 – in whole dollar amounts – from the committee's account at Spring Valley City Bank. The committee said the money was used to cover Election Day expenses, such as travel and poll watchers. The recipients of the expenditures were undisclosed.
Cooke, who was a resident of Mautino's district, alleged money was improperly spent for personal purposes and petitioned the board to fine Mautino's committee equal to the amounts spent at Happy's and withdrawn from the bank. The committee denied any shenanigans, saying the vehicles may have been personal, but were still used for campaign and governmental activities. The committee also said the other expenditures were legitimate.
The board asked Mautino to testify, but he refused, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The board deadlocked 4-4 on the question of whether Mautino's committee was in violation. Five votes are needed to find the committee in violation. Cooke then took the matter to the appellate panel.
Appellate Justice Knecht noted the issue involved interpretation of the Illinois Election Code, and a "plain reading" shows the code "effectively prohibits" use of campaign money to pay gas and repair costs of a third party's personal vehicle used for a campaign or governmental duties. Knecht added the law does allow mileage reimbursement, which "makes sense" because it restricts compensation to fuel and wear and tear, while creating "transparent and detailed records of committee funds."
Further, Knecht concluded, "As Cooke argues, we find it would be inevitable at least some portion of the gas and repairs were for personal use."
Knecht found the committee did not cross the line with the bank withdrawals for election day expenses.
Knecht remanded the case to the board, saying violations occurred, but whether they were "knowingly" committed, needs to be addressed by the board when the board considers the imposition of fines.
The Board of Elections previously fined the committee $5,000 for inadequate accounting of expenditures.
Mautino is represented by the Chicago firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson.
Cook is represented by Liberty Justice Center, of Chicago.
The Board of Elections is represented by the Illinois Attorney General's Office.