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Cooke: Address misspending claims

A Streator resident says the state elections board failed to address the merits of his claims against former state Rep. Frank Mautino.

In his latest legal brief, David Cooke, through his attorneys, this week asked the state appeals court in Springfield to force the Board of Elections to make a decision one way or another on Mautino's alleged misspending of nearly $400,000 in campaign money.

Last May, the board fined Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat, $5,000 for failing to produce requested records in response to Cooke's complaint.

The board says it handled the issue and that no more action is needed, while Mautino's lawyers contend their client already received the maximum penalty.

However, the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center, which is representing Cooke, said there is no cap on fines for misspending of campaign money.

The group also noted the board determined Cooke's complaint was filed on "justifiable grounds" in May 2016, meaning the board had to act on the merits of the claims, even if only to dismiss them.

Among Cooke's allegations were that Mautino's campaign spent around $200,000 on gas and car repairs with Spring Valley's Happy's Super Service over about a decade. Because the campaign neither owned nor leased any cars, it was supposed to reimburse car expenditures through mileage. Yet the Mautino campaign filled gas tanks for years. It said it did so for Mautino and volunteers, including family, for campaign and government purposes.

The campaign's method, Cooke said in his brief, resulted in benefits to private parties they would not have received had Mautino followed state law.

"(T)he individuals received the benefit of having their entire gas tanks filled, even though it is virtually certain that at least some of the gas paid for at Happy's was used for personal purposes because it would be difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to use a whole tank of gas exclusively for campaign or government purposes even if they wanted to," the brief said.

Additionally, Cooke said, the campaign was paying more than it would have paid if it simply reimbursed car owners for mileage.

In an email, Cooke said that with his latest brief, the matter is ready for a hearing in the appeals court.

Mautino, now the state's auditor general, is represented by Chicago-based Hinshaw & Culbertson, one of the state's biggest law firms.

Cooke filed his initial complaint without a lawyer, but eventually secured the free services of the Liberty Justice Center, which is connected to the conservative think tank, Illinois Policy Institute.

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.

Mautino represented La Salle County in the state Legislature for nearly a quarter century, until resigning to become auditor general in December 2015.

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