A few days ago, Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino issued a report that concluded the Kane County Regional Office of Education did not handle its finances properly.
To be more precise, an independent firm contracted by the Illinois auditor general’s office concluded the regional education office “did not have sufficient controls over the financial reporting process.”
That finding comes on the heels of a vote by the Illinois State Board of Elections to fine Mautino’s own now-defunct campaign committee $5,000 because it failed to publicly disclose information about questionable campaign spending.
Election board members voted 6-2 after a hearing officer recommended the fine be imposed because the campaign fund “willfully” declined to update campaign finance disclosure reports filed in 2014 and 2015.
Mautino is a Democrat who worked as a state representative for 24 years and spent the last several years as a key member of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s leadership team. He hired a lawyer after a complaint was filed against him at the elections board. For more than a year, the lawyer and the board members parried over whether Mautino’s fund would produce documents and whether he or its officers could explain why the fund spent more than $247,000 on fuel and car repairs over a 16-year period at one Spring Valley service station and why another $200,000 in payments were made to a local bank.
In addition to voting in favor of the fine, elections board members considered whether to refer the case to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the LaSalle County state’s attorney, but that motion failed on a party-line vote. Mautino, it previously has been widely reported, has been under federal criminal investigation because of questions about his former campaign fund.
Is he still under federal investigation? Both Mautino and his lawyer, Anthony Jacob, would not answer my questions.
It is public record, however, that Mautino declined to appear before the elections board, citing his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“I understand the frustration,” Ken Menzel, general counsel for the elections board told me. “All the records are in the hands of somebody who’s pleading the 5th Amendment.”
What we have now in Illinois is the top financial watchdog for state government, a constitutional officer appointed to a 10-year term by lawmakers, whose own campaign fund has been fined the largest penalty of its kind for failing to disclose details about its financial records.
For months, several House Republicans have called for Mautino to step down.
He says nothing. That’s frequently what lawyers advise when you’re under federal investigation. For all we Illinoisans know, our state auditor general may have a reasonable explanation for those payments to that local bank and service station. But we don’t know because Mautino is operating under a cone of silence, about himself.
A few months ago, Mautino published an audit of Chicago State University that found school officials didn’t properly disclose or prepare reports about the spending of more than $51 million in awards from the federal education department.
Isn’t that more than a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, Illinoisans might reasonably ask? Isn’t it ironic that a state officer is calling out agencies for doing the same thing his own campaign fund did? Isn’t there at least a perception problem here with our watchdog of public funds? “No comment at this time,” I was told. Neither Mautino nor his lawyer would step out from under the dark cone of silence to provide Illinoisans any answers in the bright light of day.