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Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 12:09 am

Election board probes Mautino

Complaint prompts review of auditor general

Auditor general Frank Mautino
The Illinois State Board of Elections is reviewing campaign finance reports filed by auditor general Frank Mautino while he was in the General Assembly.

The board probe was sparked by a complaint filed by Dave Cooke, a retired nuclear plant worker who lives in Streator. Cooke says that he filed his complaint earlier this month after reading media reports about campaign spending by Mautino, who reported spending more than $200,000 at a single service station, Happy’s Super Service, in less than 11 years for gas and car repairs while he was a state representative.

Many payments were made in round figures of $1,000 or more. Disclosure reports also show more than $250,000 paid to Spring Valley City Bank for poll watchers, parking, gasoline, travel expenses and other purposes that have nothing to do with banking. Most of the bank payments were in round figures, with the bank often receiving between $100 and $300 for purposes typically described as “Chicago meeting” sometimes accompanied by the words “gas” or “parking.”

Records also show that Patty Maunu, Mautino’s campaign treasurer, received $23,800 in a series of 16 payments, all in round figures, since 2013 for meeting expenses, without any details on how the money was spent aside from notations that no one vendor got more than $150. If a campaign gives more than $150 to an individual or entity in a quarterly reporting period, the name and address of the recipient must be disclosed.

“This is a gentleman who’s the auditor general of Illinois who’s going to be looking at accounting issues,” said Cooke, a Republican who once served on his local school board. “Frank’s been in office for 25 years. He didn’t know how to do this (file proper disclosure reports)? I don’t believe any of that. … He shouldn’t be just throwing money down the toilet and giving it to whoever.”

Tom Newman, director of the division of campaign disclosure at the State Board of Elections, said that he isn’t at liberty to discuss details of the board’s review.

“Based on the reporting that’s been done, you can guess the content of the complaint,” Newman said.

Cooke said he sent the board about 70 pages of Mautino’s campaign disclosure records as well as media reports about questionable spending. He said that he complained because he believes that someone needs to investigate Mautino’s campaign spending.

“My thought was, ‘Who’s going to file the complaint?’” Cooke said. “If no one does it, they’ll never look into it.”

Cooke said that he believes payments made to Spring Valley City Bank are the biggest concern.

“They couldn’t provide the services, they didn’t perform these services,” Cooke said. “You take cash out of a bank, then they paid, evidently, someone for something, allegedly.”

Mautino, a Democrat, has refused interview requests since January, when Illinois Times, newspapers in Mautino’s legislative district and the Edgar County Watchdogs, a group of self-appointed government watchdogs, began reporting on his campaign spending. Coverage by large media organizations has been scant.

Mautino didn’t answer written questions from Illinois Times, asking for details on how money was spent. Who attended meetings on which nearly $24,000 was spent in the space of two years, what goods or services did the money buy, how many meetings were held and why were they held? Why was Manau reported as the recipient for these meeting expenses? Why were the payments in round figures? Why did you report giving a bank more than $4,000, all in round figures, since 2013 for such things as parking and gasoline and meeting expenses? And why won’t Mautino agree to an interview?

Ryan Keith, a public relations consultant retained by Mautino to handle questions about his campaign spending, provided a copy of a written statement given to Edgar County Watchdogs stating that campaign money for vehicles was spent on four vehicles, one of which was owned by a campaign worker and another that was owned by Mautino but “primarily driven” by a campaign worker. Under state law, politicians can’t spend money from campaign funds on vehicles unless they are used “primarily” for campaign or government work. Mautino in his statement wrote that the vehicles were used both for personal and campaign purposes.

Asked why Mautino hasn’t granted interviews, Keith referred to a Feb. 18 newscast from Channel 20, broadcast after a reporter caught the auditor general at a Senate appropriations committee hearing.

“Frank addressed the situation well in this interview last week,” Keith wrote in an email.

Mautino’s on-camera interview lasted 10 seconds and consisted of two sentences.

“What I’ve done is, I am going through many of the receipts that were held by my campaign committee,” Mautino said. “I’ve got some people helping me organize it so that I can make a statement that’s full and accurate and reflects the spending in the areas of my campaign.”

Mautino won re-election by just 336 votes the last time his name appeared on a ballot. Jerry Long, a truck driver who had never before run for office but nearly toppled Mautino in the fall of 2014, says that Mautino’s campaign finances “could have made a little bit of difference” had voters known how he was spending money. He says that he was too busy knocking on doors to check disclosure reports.

“I was totally underfunded and understaffed,” Long said. “Had I known about that, I probably would have chomped on it. … It’s up to the Republican Party to be able to catch something like that. In an on-air debate I had with Frank Mautino, I said ‘I’m not winning this, you’re losing this. You’ve lost contact with the people of the district.’ He lost touch with the people in the district, and that (campaign spending questions) would have fit right in.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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