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Appellate court hears arguments in Mautino case

Streator resident wants case returned to elections board

Auditor General and former state rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley
Auditor General and former state rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley

Streator resident David Cooke wants the state board of elections to make a decision one way or the other on former state Rep. Frank Mautino's alleged misspending of campaign money.

During oral arguments last week, Jeffrey Schwab, attorney at the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which is representing Cooke, asked an appeals court in Springfield to return the case to the state elections board and require it to make a ruling on the expenditures.

The board of elections fined Mautino's campaign committee $5,000 for failing to produce requested records in response to Cooke's complaint, but it did not address whether Mautino's campaign spending was proper.

Among Cooke's arguments were Mautino's campaign spent about $200,000 on gas and car repairs with a Spring Valley gas station for more than a decade. The committee was supposed to reimburse car expenditures through mileage, because it didn't own or lease any cars.

That part of Cooke's complaint was never ruled on by the elections board. Nor should it be, an attorney for the state argued last week.

"Everyone was hampered by the deficient reports," said Aaron Dozeman, of the Illinois Attorney General's Office, representing the elections board.

An appellate judge asked, "So a failure to report ends up theoretically defeating the complaint, which needed the report to be able to flesh out (Cooke's complaints)?"

"That's true," Dozeman answered, adding Mautino was fined the maximum the board could hand down for not complying.

Dozeman said it was understood the board was limited in its review. Dozeman emphasized the scope focused on the reporting aspect of the campaign spending.

An attorney representing Mautino's campaign said the committee couldn't comply with the election board's request to amend records, because no one can revive the committee while Mautino holds the auditor general post.

The disbanded committee also hasn't paid the fine, because there's no one to do so.

Schwab said Cooke is persisting, because he wants a record to provide clarity in future cases.

"There's campaign requirements of officials, and the Legislature felt it was important that citizens have the ability to file complaints when they believe violations of the election code took place," Schwab said. "Here we have a violation of election code over time, and we're asking for a decision on that, so people are informed that elected officials are complying with the law they themselves have written."

Schwab said returning the case to the elections board sends an important message to citizens.

" ... If this case continues when a citizen like my client David Cooke files a complaint and doesn't get an actual hearing on the merits of his claims, it may dissuade future people from filing complaints," Schwab said.

"It's important that if the system relies on citizens to keep elected officials accountable, they are actually given a hearing on those claims."

In phone interviews Monday, Schwab and Cooke both said they were hopeful and confident in the arguments they made. Mautino declined an opportunity to comment through his spokesman.

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