By Judith Crown, Better Government Association
Posted Feb. 14, 2016 at 10:00 PM
Frank Mautino is off to a rocky start as Illinois auditor general.
Not long after the former Democratic state representative from Spring Valley and House deputy majority leader took office Jan. 1, he was faced with questions about his use of campaign funds.
Reports filed with the State Board of Elections show the Committee for Frank J. Mautino made loan repayments to a local bank that far exceeded the amount borrowed. The committee spent large sums on car repairs and gasoline at a single service station. In addition, Mautino’s political fundraising continued after he was confirmed as auditor general.
The auditor general’s office serves as a financial watchdog over state agencies. The office ensures departments spend and report funds properly and comply with state and federal rules and regulations. Mautino succeeds William Holland, who retired after 23 years on the job.
"The auditor general must adhere to the highest ethical standards," said state Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Streator, co-chairman of the Legislative Audit Commission that oversees the auditor general’s office. Some of the reported campaign expenditures "don’t pass the smell test," he said.
Among the campaign spending in question:
* Mautino’s campaign paid about $95,000 for repayment of loans and interest between 1999 and 2015, reports show, even though he took out loans from the bank totaling only $26,000 beginning in 1994.
* Mautino’s campaign committee spent nearly $250,000 for car repairs and gasoline at the same service station in Spring Valley — Happy’s Super Service Station — since 1999 and more than $200,000 of that in the decade between 2005 and 2015.
That averages to more than $50 a day for gasoline and repairs. About one third of the payments to Happy’s are in rounded numbers such as $1,500 or $800, unusual for garage bills, which typically tally specific charges for parts, labor and tax.
* After his confirmation as auditor general on Oct. 20, Mautino continued to raise funds that he said were needed to shut down his legislative office and to clear campaign debts. His quarterly disclosure statement filed with the State Board of Elections as of Sept. 30 showed that had nearly $10,400 in funds and no debts or obligations. He raised $17,500 in the final quarter of the year.
Mautino said in an interview last month that his final race in 2014 depleted his campaign funds and he "had bills to pay," including the cost of closing his legislative office and paying staff.
As for the other aspects of his campaign expenditures, Ryan Keith, a spokesman for Mautino, said in a late January statement that Mautino’s committee "fully disclosed and reported all spending by the campaign in compliance with Illinois campaign finance and disclosure laws. His reports fully detail campaign expenditures that were made to help defray the standard, reasonable expenses incurred while Frank performed the governmental and public service duties of serving as state representative of his large, mostly rural district."
When asked for an update earlier this month, Keith said Mautino is "going through documents and double-checking" everything before disclosing any information.
The expenditures have raised eyebrows. Barickman and Republican members of the Legislative Audit Commission as of Jan. 29 were preparing to send a letter to Mautino asking him to answer questions raised by the disclosures. Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, the other co-chair of the Legislative Audit Commission, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
"He’s got some explaining to do," state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Aurora, said of the service-station expenditures. Oberweis was the only member of the Audit Commission to vote against Mautino; he said he believed another candidate was more qualified.
The spending patterns are "irregular," said Susan Garrett, a former Democratic state senator from Highwood, now chair of the board for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. She noted, in particular, the payments to a Spring Valley bank.
"Why is he writing checks to a bank? It doesn’t make sense," she said.
Two non-profit government watchdog groups also are concerned.
The Edgar County Watchdogs, which was at the forefront of raising questions about Mautino’s spending patterns, is pushing the auditor general to provide receipts and other documentation for his transactions. Meanwhile, Adam Andrzejewski, founder of OpenTheBooks.com
, is calling on Mautino to step down.
In the General Assembly, Mautino was a popular legislator with a record for bringing together different sides of an issue. He was confirmed as the state’s third auditor general on Oct. 20. The vote was unanimous in the Senate and 102-10 in the House.
Mautino comes from a political family. His father, Richard A. Mautino, represented the 76th District in the Illinois House from 1975 until his death in 1991. Frank was appointed to succeed him. The district includes portions of Bureau, La Salle, Livingston and Putnam counties, located southwest of Chicago.
Earlier, he worked at his family’s beer distributorship, Mautino Distributing Co., from 1976 to the time he took over his father’s seat in the House. He earned a bachelor's degree in marketing from Illinois State University in 1985. Last year, he was treated for esophageal cancer.
As a legislator, Mautino won high marks as a conciliator.
"Frank was often the person to find middle ground," said Randy Witter, president of Springfield-based lobbying firm Cook Witter Inc. "He respected the different segments you deal with in Springfield and was tireless in reaching out to the different sides."
Mautino, in an earlier interview with the BGA, said he was particularly proud of two bills in which he helped forge compromise: reform of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund two years ago and, more recently, a new environmental permitting process.
Between 2009 and his departure from the House, he served as deputy majority leader to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. That partisan platform gave some Republicans doubts about his fit for the position of auditor general.
"There was a concern — would he be more aggressive with appointees of (Gov. Bruce) Rauner?" said Rep. C.D Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, a former member of the Audit Commission.
Legislators, however, noted that Holland, the former auditor general, came from a partisan background. He was chief of staff to the late Democratic Senate President Phil Rock and turned out to be nonpartisan and even-handed.
Legislators expected Mautino to follow Holland’s model.
"In my 25 years of working in the General Assembly I was known for being bipartisan," Mautino said in an interview. "I didn’t go after Republicans then, and I won’t do that now."
Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan, noted that Mautino’s confirmation vote reflected broad confidence from both sides of the aisle.