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Panel ties on Mautino campaign spending

No further action taken; appeal still possible

The Illinois State Board of Elections cast a split vote Tuesday on whether Illinois Auditor General and former state Rep. Frank Mautino’s committee violated campaign spending rules.

The immediate result is no further action will be taken against the disbanded committee, which was previously fined $5,000 for failing to produce records.

The case was brought back before the state panel after an appellate court in Springfield ruled the board had to make a decision on whether a pair of election codes were violated.

Tuesday’s vote ended in a partisan tie. The four Republicans on the board voted the committee violated election code, while the four Democrats voted the committee didn’t.

The board considered whether the Spring Valley Democrat’s committee violated the prohibition on spending on gas and car repairs for vehicles not owned or leased by the committee, as well as whether the committee spent on items beyond fair market value.

Mautino’s campaign spent more than $225,000 on gas and repairs over a roughly 16-year period.

“I’m disappointed; the evidence was compelling,” said Streator resident Dave Cooke, who brought the issue before the board.

A spokesman for Mautino’s campaign did not respond to an email sent Tuesday by The Times seeking comment.

Cooke was represented by attorney Jeffrey Schwab, of the Liberty Justice Center, which is tied to the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. Schwab said the next option is deciding whether to appeal the vote with the appellate court in Springfield.

In his argument, Schwab said election code requires Mautino’s committee to use mileage reimbursements to pay for vehicles used that are not owned or leased by the committee, which was not done. Schwab also noted Mautino withdrew funds from bank accounts in whole amounts that were used for campaign expenses to undisclosed third parties, which he said opens the door for potential corruption.

Attorneys from Hinshaw & Culbertson, defending Mautino’s campaign, argued the definition of “fair market value” by Schwab was taken out of context, saying expenditures were bought for a reasonable price and used for campaign purposes. The attorneys also said election code for vehicle reimbursement “is complicated, leading to different interpretations for how expenditures should be reported.”

Mautino’s campaign spending was the subject of an investigation in 2016 by the U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield and the IRS. As a practice, federal prosecutors refrain from discussing their work, so it’s unclear whether the investigation is active. Board member William McGuffage made reference to the investigation during Tuesday’s hearing.

Mautino represented La Salle County in the state Legislature for nearly a quarter century, until resigning to become auditor general in December 2015. The appointment to the post, which serves as a watchdog for the state’s tax dollars, is for 10 years.

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