Old Expenses Rattle New Illinois Auditor General

Questions and concern about Mautino’s campaign payouts has opponents calling for his ouster even before he really gets started.

To put it mildly, Frank Mautino is off to a rocky start as Illinois auditor general.

No sooner had the 53-year old former Democratic state representative from Spring Valley and House deputy majority leader taken office Jan. 1, than he was pummeled with a barrage of news stories raising questions about his use of campaign funds. 

Reports filed with the Illinois 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 gas at a single service station. Also puzzling:  Mautino’s political fundraising continued after he was confirmed as auditor general.

It’s an inauspicious beginning considering the auditor general’s job is to serve as a watchdog over state agencies. The office is ensures the offices spend and report funds properly and comply with state and federal rules and regulations. Mautino succeeds William Holland, who held the job for 23 years.

“The auditor general must adhere to the highest ethical standards,” said Jason Barickman, (R-Streator) co-chair of the Legislative Audit Commission that oversees the auditor general’s office. Some of the reported campaign expenditures, he added, “don’t pass the smell test.”

Among the campaign reports 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 gas at a single service station in Spring Valley—Happy’s Super Service Station—since 1999 and more than $200,000 of that in the 10 years between 2005 and 2015. That averages to more than $50 a day for gas and repairs. Adding to the mystery is that about one third of the payments to Happy’s are in rounded numbers such as $1,500 or $800, unusual for garage bills, which tally specific charges for parts, labor, and tax.
  • After his confirmation on Oct. 20, Mautino continued to raise funds that he said were for office-closing expenses 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 “had bills to pay” including the cost of closing his legislative office and paying staff. 

As for the other aspects of his campaign expenditures, a spokesman said in a 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.”

Nevertheless, the pattern of expenditures has raised eyebrows. Barickman and Republican members of the Legislative Auditor 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.

At the least, 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 Spring Valley bank. “Why is he writing checks to a bank—it doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Two non-profit government watchdogs are also unhappy with Mautino’s appointment.

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 another government watchdog, OpenTheBooks.com, is calling on Mautino to step down.

When asked for an update, his spokesman said Mautino is “going through documents and double-checking” everything before disclosing any information.

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 unanimously in the Senate and by a 102-10 vote 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 J. was appointed to succeed him. The district includes portions of Bureau, LaSalle, Livingston, and Putnam counties, 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 B.S. 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 interview, 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.

Since 2009, he has served as deputy majority leader to House Speaker Michael Madigan. That partisan platform gave some Republicans doubts about his fit for the position of auditor general.  Would he use the office to go after Republican department heads?

“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.

However, legislators noted that former auditor general William Holland 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.”

A spokesman for House speaker Michael Madigan noted that Mautino’s confirmation vote reflected broad confidence from both sides of the aisle.

But for now, the implication of partisanship is the least of Mautino’s concerns.

Those $200,000 in payments to a single service station raise questions, said Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Aurora), the only member of the Audit Commission to vote against Mautino (Oberweis said he believed another candidate was more qualified). “He’s got some explaining to do.”

About the Author
  • Judith Crown

    Judith Crown is a veteran business journalist and a regular BGA freelance contributor. She has worked for major news outlets including BusinessWeek Chicago and Crain’s Chicago Business.