Appellate judges rule Mautino campaign violated election code, faces more fines
The campaign committee that once backed Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino – a former state lawmaker – violated Illinois election codes, appellate judges ruled.
The man responsible for ensuring appropriate use of public funds in Illinois was backed by a campaign committee that an appellate court has ruled inappropriately spent over $225,000 at a gas station and cashed nearly $160,000 in checks with few receipts.
The Illinois 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield on Aug. 19 ruled the Illinois State Board of Elections must consider further fines in the case involving Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino’s former campaign committee for state representative.
The elections board in May 2017 imposed a $5,000 fine against Mautino’s former campaign committee. The committee, which is now dissolved, never paid that fine.
Happy’s Super Service near Mautino’s home in Spring Valley, Illinois, received $225,109.19 for gas and repairs between 1999 and 2015, according to campaign committee records. Election code allows for mileage reimbursement for campaign work, but not for repairs or filling up cars.
“Now it’s clear to any candidate in Illinois the way to handle vehicle expenses is through mileage, you can’t just fill up people’s gas tanks,” Jeffrey Schwab, an attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, told Shaw Media.
Schwab handled the case for Streator resident David Cooke, who appealed the election board’s handling of the complaint against Mautino’s committee when the board failed to make a decision about the expenses.
“We’re not saying Mautino’s campaign was corrupt, but we are saying the manner in which they filled up gas tanks or took money from the bank to pay for expenses allows for the campaign to cover up things,” Schwab said, according to Shaw Media. “That’s the whole reason we have the rules in the first place is to be able to account for the expenditures.”
The elections board voted 4-4, along party lines, in 2018 after a previous appellate court ruling directed it to consider whether Democrat Mautino’s committee violated election laws. The board’s Republicans voted that the committee violated the state election code, but the Democrats voted that there wasn’t enough evidence. The tie meant there was no decision.
The judges’ Aug. 19 ruling stated that was a mistake, and that there was enough evidence to find Mautino’s committee in violation. It directs the elections board to revisit the issues, but any pending fines depend on whether the committee knew it was violating election codes.
The state is unlikely to see a check for the old fine or any new fines. The campaign committee is dissolved, and the committee, not Mautino, is responsible for paying, Schwab said. If Mautino were to reinstate the committee to run again for public office, the state could then collect the fines.
If a campaign does not measure its travel expenses by mileage, Schwab argued that filling up the tank on a personal vehicle will lead to personal use. The appellate judges agreed: “Without needing to consider any possible adverse inference from Mautino’s refusal to testify, we find the manner in which the Committee paid for travel expenses over a 15-year period inevitably led to at least some portion of the cash being used for personal purposes.”
The ruling states the committee paid too much and that it should not have cashed checks for travel expenses.
“By making expenditures to withdraw cash used for personal purposes, the Committee made expenditures in excess of the fair market value for what it received in exchange, which was nothing. The Board’s decision to the contrary is clearly erroneous,” the ruling states.
The checks were often written in round dollar amounts to Spring Valley City Bank, and the committee returned none of the $159,028. Only some receipts for the expenditures were kept. Mautino has refused to detail the unidentified spending.
Schwab said the ruling was a win regardless of what the elections board eventually does. The appeal’s intent was to limit the potential for corruption and set guidelines for political campaigns.
The elections board could advance the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, but a board spokesman said staff was reviewing the appellate ruling and had no comment, according to Shaw Media.
Mautino served in the Illinois House of Representatives for nearly 25 years until he was appointed auditor general in 2015. He did not comment on the ruling.