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Appellate Court could settle Mautino campaign questions

Streator resident said finding a precedent important for future committees

A decision is expected from the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield on a lingering matter of former State Rep. Frank Mautino's campaign expenditures.

David Cooke, of Streator, through the representation of attorney Jeffrey Schwab at the Liberty Justice Center, argued to the court last month the Illinois Board of Elections has avoided making findings in the case.

The committee was previously fined $5,000 by the Illinois Board of Elections for failing to produce records.

The case was brought back before the Illinois Board of Elections last year after the appellate court in Springfield ruled the board had to make a further decision on whether a pair of election codes were violated.

That July 10, 2018, vote ended in a partisan tie, meaning the complaints failed. The four Republicans on the board voted the committee violated election code, while the four Democrats voted there wasn’t enough evidence to do so.

Schwab said the hope is the appellate court will settle the matter itself, noting his client is not seeking any more punishment for Mautino — now the state's auditor general — or his campaign, but he wants rulings made on the complaints in the case in order to set a precedent for future politicians.

Since Mautino's committee is dissolved and had no legal obligation to keep the records, the committee argued it had incomplete records to submit to the elections board.

Attorney Anthony Jacobs, representing Mautino's committee, told appellate judges it should be the appellant's burden to prove wrongdoing.

An appellate judge asked if this were a civil case outside of politics "what would happen to the defendant in a civil case who disposes of absolutely necessary documents to answer questions of plaintiffs?"

Jacobs reiterated there is no obligation to maintain records.

Cooke wants the appellate court to rule on the committee's practice of paying for gas and repairs on personal vehicles, saying election code states mileage reimbursement has to be paid for personal vehicles.

Cooke wants the court to rule on the committee's expenditures for gas and repairs exceeding fair market value, stating by not paying for them by mileage reimbursement that it exceeds that value. Schwab argued when expenditures are not paid by reported mileage, it stands to reason that some of the gas goes for personal use.

"You wouldn't use the whole tank of gas for exclusively campaign activities," he said.

Cooke also wants the court to rule the committee's practice of reporting the bank as the vendor for occasions when the committee used cash for trips as exceeding fair market value. Schwab said cash was taken out in round numbers, arguing not every campaign trip will have a cost at an exact round number.

Representing the board of elections, Aaron Dozeman, of the Illinois Attorney General's Office, defended the panel's deadlock as a proper response to the case, noting those who voted against further action did not have enough evidence to do so.

He said the board did what it could in issuing a fine, but the committee was dissolved, so there is no consequence.

Ultimately, Schwab concluded the way the elections board has left the matter, it would be in the benefit of a political campaign committee, in the event it needed to cover up a campaign expenditure, to fail in its reporting, and then no further action could be taken.

Schwab said he expects a ruling within the next couple of weeks.

Mautino, now the state’s auditor general, 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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