There is corruption and then there is Illinois corruption.
The fine art of Illinois political corruption is and has been on full display the last 9 months with the ongoing campaign spending scandal of Illinois’ new Auditor General Frank Mautino and it is a sickening display that could very well end up with Mautino walking away from his troubles Scott free thanks to the indifference of the states 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.
This story begins in 1991 when Frank Mautino first became a state Representative replacing his late father. Frank would go on to serve in the state legislature for the next 24 years rising to the rank of deputy majority leader, the 3rd highest ranking Democrat in the state House. Frank would only resign in late 2015 to take the position of Auditor General at the strong behest and backing of Speaker Michael Madigan.
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. What the IL 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 payoff outstanding campaign debts.
Government watchdogs John Kraft and Kirk Allen(Edgar County Watchdogs) found that Mautino’s debt payment claim to be false as campaign disclosure records show that Mautino had paid off all of his campaign debts months prior to the donations he said he solicited for that purpose.
Then the Kraft and Allen went further into Mautino’s campaign expenditure reports and found that in addition to making payments on a loan that totaled nearly 4 times the loan amount, Mautino was also paying a quarter of a million dollars($250,000) to his hometown bank Spring Valley City Bank for such things as campaign workers, poll watchers, and travel to Chicago, things one cannot get from their local bank.
Kraft and Allen also found that Frank Mautino had paid another $250,000 to Happy’s gas station in Spring Valley for gas and car repairs, for what Mautino’s camp has claimed were 3 vehicles, one of which was a newer model car(2012?) and therefore couldn’t have been responsible for the more than $50 a day average Frank was paying out to Happy’s. Based upon the dollar amounts and number of transactions involved any reasonable person would concluded that Frank was engaging in some type of kickback scheme or money laundering at Happy’s. Note, of the multiple gas stations in Spring Valley, and the dozens of them in his district Mautino only spent money on gas at Happy’s, which turns out is owned by one Fred West, a longtime Mautino campaign ally and currently a member of the Spring Valley city council, a city that has gotten large chunks of state spending thanks to Mautino’s long tenure as a top Lieutenant to Speaker Madigan.
Further investigation of Mautino’s campaign spending records dating back to 1999 by local reporter David Giuliani of the Ottawa Times, and myself found that Frank had used $78,000 of his campaign funds over a 10 year period on food at 4 Spring Valley restaurants, the bulk of the money spent was at the restaurant owned by the family of Frank’s wife. Mautino also somehow managed to pay a waste management company more than the company charges for dumpster rental, a dumpster Frank doesn’t seem to have had any need for. Mautino also used campaign funds to pay a couple of his regular campaign workers an additional $35,000(combined) to do repairs and other work on his “office” and he paid-out nearly $8,000 for US and Illinois flags from a place called Flag World in Springfield.
Whatsmore it has also been learned that after he got the Auditor Generals job Mautino asked retiring Auditor General William Holland to create a brand new chief of staff position in the Auditor’s office and the only candidate for that position would be Frank’s friend and neighbor Dean Devert, who’d move over from the Illinois Department of Transportation and take the new $121,000 a year job. This patronage deal also included getting one of Mautino’s former campaign staffers to be his new secretary at the Auditor Generals office.
All of these questions, coming in rapid succession, prompted a group of 20 or so Republican lawmakers led by Naperville Rep. Grant Wehrli and Wheaton Rep. Jeanne Ives to press Mautino for answers in February. When Mautino, his lawyers, and PR firm continued to refuse to answer any questions from lawmakers or the press this Summer they filed a bill that would force Mautino out as Auditor General.
The impetus for that being the revelation in May that the US attorney’s office in Springfield had launched a criminal grand jury investigation into Frank Mautino for his campaign spending practices. In addition to the federal investigation the state Board of Elections is also probing Mautino’s campaign spending. However, that Board of Elections inquest comes with this tiny wrinkle; the Illinois Board of Elections hasn’t had an investigator to look into possible wrongdoing by lawmakers and campaign committees for at least 10 years. For those 10 years Speaker Michael Madigan and the Democrats have controlled state government, including the budget process, a process Frank Mautino was a central figure in as a state Rep.
Now this is where Illinois’ synergy of corruption comes into play.
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. 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. At one point the Chicago Tribune tried to sweep this whole thing under the rug.
With no great media pressure on state lawmakers to do something about the clear impropriety of Frank Mautino continuing on as Auditor General, the states 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 including Senate minority leader Christine Radogno, House minority leader Jim Durkin, or Gov. Bruce Rauner nor have they gotten much support from Mautino’s fellow Democrats in the state legislature as most only want him to answer questions and nothing more.
The best Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner could muster was saying that the federal and state investigations should be allowed to play themselves out.
Playing itself out to Speaker Michael Madigan, who gave Frank Mautino the Auditor General job in the first place, is that Mautino will be vindicated and that he will stay on as Auditor, as he told NPR last month. The Auditor Generals position comes with a 10 year term.
Playing itself out also means that come January 1st of next year Frank Mautino will be able to increase his state pension by about $60,000 a year as it will be based off of the $157,000 Auditor General’s salary instead of the much lower pay for state Representatives, giving him a pension of around $133,000 a year. Illinois has a pension debt of over $100 billion.
Playing itself out also means that if Frank Mautino’s lawyer, from a Madigan allied law firm, Anthony Jacob, gets his way the Board of Elections inquiry will be put on indefinite hold until the federal investigation is over because answering any Board of Elections question would violate Frank’s 5th amendment right against self-incrimination.
Playing itself out means that the Attorney General’s office under the leadership of Lisa Madigan, will once again let a case of public corruption go uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
Playing itself out also means putting all our hopes of seeing Frank Mautino brought to justice hinge on a Justice Department that has become politicized in favor of the Democrats and Hillary Clinton specifically and wouldn’t you know Michael Madigan is the chairman of the Illinois Democrat Party and a superdelegate, his wife Shirley was a Clinton delegate at the convention in Philly, and daughter Lisa(the Attorney General) was a staunch Clinton supporter during the run up to the Illinois primary in March. Hillary Clinton you may remember was born and raised in Chicagoland, she’s running for President of the United States.
All of this adds up to the institutionalization of corruption and a very high probability that Frank Mautino will retire early next year with a huge taxpayer financed pension and face nothing but a slap on the wrist for making a mockery of campaign finance and disclosure laws and spending a year stonewalling lawmakers and the press.
There is corruption and then there is Illinois corruption.