July 13, 2018
When it comes to political graft, paying people under the table isn’t too complicated — as long as you have some blurred lines to hide in.
That’s the lesson underlying the tragi-comic saga of Frank Mautino.
In the eyes of the law, Mautino is not guilty of corruption, though he is under federal investigation. On Tuesday, the Illinois State Board of Elections rendered a partisan 4-4 vote on whether to fine his now-defunct campaign committee for violating campaign finance rules.
Mautino is the state’s auditor-in-chief, but has demonstrated over the course of a two-year case before the board that he can’t keep his own books clean. This is about more than just Mautino’s actions, however. What his case has also revealed is a problematic process in rooting out bribery, fraud and other wrongdoing in Illinois campaigns.
Consider two practices at the crux of the case against Mautino, involving campaign spending from his previous job as a state representative.
First, his campaign spent more than $225,000 from 1999 to 2015 at a single service station in his legislative district for gas and repairs of vehicles owned by him, his family members and various associates. But the election code required the campaign committee to reimburse vehicle owners on a per-mile basis for the use of their vehicles for campaign purposes. Inevitably filling up the tanks of personal vehicles will result in paying these vehicle owners for the personal use of their vehicles. And that seems to be the case here when you consider $225,000 buys enough fuel to drive around the circumference of the earth a few times over.
Second, Mautino’s campaign committee would write checks in the name of the bank – usually in round dollar amounts in increments of tens or hundreds – cash those checks from the committee’s checking account at the bank, and purportedly spend the cash on campaign expenditures. They only sometimes saved receipts and never returned any cash not used. The campaign committee spent more than $150,000 this way.
This is suspicious behavior, to say the least. By withdrawing cash and making expenditures in cash without reporting the recipient of those expenditures, the committee masked the recipient of that cash.