Mautino scandal virtually ignored in state media, political realms
Despite the controversy surrounding embattled Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino and whatever misdeeds he may have committed, the scandal apparently is not a big deal if news media buzz and political heat are any indication, a citizen journalist recently said on his blog.
"There is corruption and then there is Illinois corruption," Ulysses S. Arn, editor in chief of US of ARN, who bills himself as Northern Illinois' leading citizen journalist, said in a recent blog post. "The fine art of Illinois political corruption is and has been on full display the last nine months with the ongoing campaign-spending scandal of new Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino, and it is a sickening display that could very well end up with Mautino walking away from his troubles scot-free, thanks to the indifference of the state's mainstream media, the lack of interest on the part of Republican leadership, the enormous clout and power held by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, and the handicapping of a state agency or two."
Mautino's troubles began as soon as he took over as auditor general, Arn said in his blog post.
"It was in taking the auditor general job that Frank Mautino’s problems began because Frank’s last campaign disclosure report was scrutinized by the Springfield-based Illinois Times, a weekly newspaper," Arn wrote. "What the Illinois Times discovered was Frank taking in large amounts of campaign donations after it was widely known that he was going to get the auditor general job. In response to that story, Mautino claimed that the donations were to pay off outstanding campaign debts."
Questions and calls for an investigation began soon afterward. Streator resident and former Streator High School board member David Cooke filed a complaint this past winter with the Illinois State Board of Elections. After that and an ever-mounting number of calls for an investigation, Mautino retained Hinshaw & Culbertson, then went largely quiet about the case. For months, Mautino has not responded to most news media requests for comment, including those from the Illinois Valley Times.
Mautino's critics question his expenditures of almost $200,000 in campaign contributions for gas and car repairs at Happy's Super Service in Spring Valley, as well as more than $200,000 in payments to Spring Valley City Bank.
Mautino, appointed to replace Auditor General William Holland, who retired in the third year of his 10-year term, received an overwhelming confirmation majority from the state's General Assembly. The vote was unanimous in the Senate, and only 10 House members, all Republicans, voted against Mautino's appointment.
The position of auditor general, established in the 1970 State Constitution, carries a 10-year term with a salary of approximately $152,000 a year. Mautino officially took office Jan. 1.
The questions and calls for investigation arose shortly after that. In May, the Illinois State Board of Elections ordered Mautino to provide more details about his campaign expenditures during his time as a state legislator. In June, Mautino's legal counsel filed a motion to stay, stating that Mautino otherwise would be forced to choose between waiving and claiming his rights under the Fifth Amendment because of a pending, parallel federal criminal investigation. Mautino also has declined to comply with an election board deadline to amend his campaign reports and clarify expenditures.
Despite all of that activity, the case has not been covered that much by larger newspapers in Illinois.
"Aside from running wire-service stories coinciding with the announcement of the federal probe, virtually no Illinois-based newspaper or TV station has covered Frank Mautino’s scandal at all, let alone in any detail," Arn wrote in his blog post. "Unless you read the Illinois Times, Ottawa Times, or follow the Edgar County Watchdogs blog or mine, you wouldn’t know the state of Illinois has an auditor general, let alone one that is mired in scandal, or tied to the hip to Michael Madigan."
That lack of attention by enough news outlets in the state isn't encouraging Illinois Republican leaders to do much about it, Arn said.
"With no great media pressure on state lawmakers to do something about the clear impropriety of Frank Mautino continuing on as auditor general, the state’s top financial watchdog, those 20 or so Republican lawmakers, half of whom were the only ones to vote against Mautino being auditor general in the first place, haven’t gotten any support from GOP leadership," Arn wrote.