CHICAGO – Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino’s former campaign committee violated no laws by identifying a garage and a bank as recipients of payments that others received, the state election board decided on July 10.
In a vote among eight members of a board that is split equally with Republican and Democrat members, four favored a motion to find that Mautino’s committee broke the law for 25 years, and four were against it.
The tie spelled defeat for David Cooke of Streator, who sought a fine of $384,137.
Cooke calculated that amount as the total of improper spending by the committee.
He challenged payments to Happy’s Super Service station in Spring Valley for gasoline and repairs. He also challenged payments in round numbers to Spring Valley City Bank that actually reflected cash withdrawals.
The Illinois State Board of Elections granted partial relief to Cooke last year, imposing a $5,000 fine on the committee for filing inadequate reports.
The ruling meant Mautino could never run for political office again.
He holds his current position by appointment of the Legislature. He was appointed in 2015 for a term lasting 10 years.
Although board members found the reports inadequate last year, they rejected Cooke’s charge of improper spending.
Cooke appealed, and Fourth District appellate judges ruled that the board didn’t fully address the allegations.
The board convened a special meeting on Tuesday, which began with Jeffrey Schwab of the Liberty Justice Center pleading on Cooke’s behalf.
Schwab said Mautino’s committee set up a charge account at Happy’s station.
He said election code allows no payment for gasoline in a vehicle that a campaign committee doesn’t own or lease.
“The committee masked the recipients and the ultimate beneficiaries,” Schwab said.
He said they received the benefit of a full tank, not just for campaign purposes, and that payments to the bank weren’t for actual spending at the bank.
Mautino would withdraw $200 for a Chicago trip without knowing he would spend exactly that amount, Schwab argued.
Tony Jacob of Chicago responded, for a committee that no longer exists.
He said records and receipts were kept.
He said Schwab’s comments dealt with reporting violations.
“We’re not here for that,” Jacob said.
When a board member asked about a $10,000 bank withdrawal, Jacob said it paid for poll watchers, telephone callers, and other workers.
Jacob said Mautino operated a vehicle as a legislator with a large district.
Board member Ian Linnabary, Republican, said, “How do you attribute the defect that gave rise to the repairs?”
Jacob said Mautino must have also personally paid for repairs.
“We can speculate but that’s not appropriate,” Jacob said.
Linnabary said he couldn’t conclude that repairs were necessitated by campaign use of vehicles.
Board member William McGuffage, Democrat, said, “We’re nit picking.”
Board member Charles Scholz, Democrat, said the committee is defunct and asked, “What’s the point?”
He said the board’s big hammer is ballot forfeiture.
“He will never run for office in Illinois,” Scholz said.
Board member Andy Carruthers, Republican, said Mautino essentially took the Fifth Amendment in a declaration on March 6, 2017.
He said the declaration should go into the record as an exhibit.
“This is exactly why we don’t know,” Carruthers said.
He said Mautino was the one person who could have explained.
Linnabary asked if all would agree that if Mautino took $200 and spent $170, it was a $30 payment to Mautino in excess of fair market value.
Jacob didn’t agree.
“We don’t know what happened to that $30,” Jacob said.
McGuffage said, “He’s refusing to cooperate because there’s a federal investigation.”
Election board disclosure director Tom Newman, who had left the meeting to see if the committee paid last year’s $5,000 fine, returned to say it did not.
Carruthers offered a motion for a finding of violations.
Republican board members Carruthers, Linnabary, board chairman William Cadigan, and Katherine O’Brien voted for the motion.
Democrat members McGuffage, Scholz, Casandra Watson, and John Keith voted against it.