Time to audit state auditor

Time to audit state auditor

Serious questions have been raised about how the state's new auditor general spent campaign funds.

Illinois may — with emphasis on the word "may" — be on the brink of another scandal that in any other state would be deliciously ironic.

This being Illinois, that's just business as usual. Nonetheless, the revelations already have drawn significant attention in Springfield because they involve suspicious campaign spending patterns by none other than Illinois' new auditor general, former Democratic state Rep. Frank Mautino.

The auditor general's office oversees spending practices in the state's executive branch, making sure that things are done right and issuing recommendations about fixing problems that lead to the abuse of taxpayer dollars.

The office is, to say the least, required to be nonpolitical and above reproach.

That's why an examination of the spending from Mautino's campaign fund by the Edgar County Watchdogs has raised so many eyebrows.

The Watchdogs revealed that Mautino, who is from the Bureau County community of Spring Valley, spent more than $213,000 between March 2005 and December 2015 on fuel and repairs for his campaign vehicle. Further, the expenditures were made at a single business, Happy's Super Service Station. The business is owned by Fred West, a Spring Valley alderman who is a friend and campaign supporter of Mautino.

"Records provided from the State Board of Elections regarding his expenses reflect Mautino could have purchased several brand new vehicles with full warranties with the campaign money he spent on repairs of his vehicle, assuming that is what really happened," the Watchdogs report said.

Now, theoretically, this all could be legitimate spending.

But consider the following expenditures. Mautino's campaign paid $3,615.07 in April 2011, $2,007.75 in May 2011, $1,874.18 in June 2011, $2,227.50 in July 2011, $1,860.11 in August 2011, $2,119.17 in September 2011, $5,811.41 in November 2011 and $2,605.30 in December 2011 — all for vehicle repairs.

Add in another $2,723.68 in January 2012, and Mautino spent roughly $23,000 from his campaign fund for vehicle repairs over a 10-month period.

Then from March 2012 to May 2012, Mautino spent another $10,000-plus on — you guessed it — vehicle repairs.

Either Mautino drives unreliable vehicles and patronizes incompetent mechanics — or something is really fishy.

Mautino has responded to media inquiries with a brief generic statement that outlined his time in government but said little of substance.

It reads:

"Frank Mautino served his north-central district with distinction in the Illinois House for 24 years, where he held a number of leadership positions, provided exemplary service to his communities and built a record of a number of legislative accomplishments. During his legislative career, Frank ran for re-election every two years. His campaign committee, Committee for Frank J. Mautino, 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. Upon his nomination as Auditor General, Frank's career in elected office ended and he closed out his campaign committee at the end of December 2015."

Not only is that not a persuasive explanation, it's not an explanation at all.

Anyone looking at these numbers can see immediately that something is amiss. No sane person would spent that kind of money on vehicle repairs — they'd buy a new car and start fresh.

That's why the responsible authorities, preferably those in the U.S. attorney's office from central Illinois, need to inquire further.

The auditor general's office that Mautino holds is under a cloud — a dark cloud that once again raises the specter of misconduct in public office. It won't go away until questions are asked and answers provided.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion