The Illinois State Board of Elections will again take up allegations against the state's embattled Auditor General Frank Mautino over more than $200,000 in possible illegal payments by his campaign committee following an appellate court opinion handed down earlier this week.
Illinois' Fourth District Appellate Court remanded the case back to the election board "to address and issue rulings on the merits" of claims by Streator resident David W. Cooke over the auditor general's campaign expenditures.
"We also direct the board, based on the concessions of the parties, to amend its May 18, 2017, order to show the committee violated sections 9-7 and 9-11 of the Election Code," the appellate court said in its opinion handed down on May 22.
Auditor General Frank Mautino
Appellate Court Justice James A. Knecht wrote the opinion, and Justice Lisa Holder White and Justice John W. Turner concurred.
The appellate court handed down its opinion in response to Cooke's request for a direct review of the election board's decision in his complaint against Mautino.
"Cooke argues we should remand the matter for the board to address and issue rulings on the merits of those claims which it failed to address," the opinion said. "Alternatively, Cooke argues, to the extent the Board did in fact issue rulings on all of his claims, we should find any rulings against him to be clearly erroneous based on the evidence presented."
Cooke, a former Streator High School board member, has been pursuing his case against Mautino and questions over the auditor general's campaign expenditures for more than two years. He has seen his litigation largely ignored by most Illinois news outlets. Liberty Justice Center has been providing legal counsel for Cooke in his claim that Mautino violated campaign disclosure laws.
The case itself is approximately two years old, stretching back to initial hearings before the Illinois Board of Elections until the appellate court opinion over Mautino's questionable use of campaign contributions before he was appointed auditor general in October 2015.
Before his appointment as auditor general, the now 55-year-old Mautino served in the state House since 1991 and was a deputy majority leader since 2011. He served 18 years on the Legislative Audit Commission before resigning from that panel to apply for the auditor post.
Mautino's father, the late state Rep. Richard "Dick" Mautino, served in the House from 1975 until his death in 1991.
Mautino never responded to calls by a handful of state lawmakers that he answer questions or resign. Instead, he has steadily refused to answer questions about the expenditures, including almost $200,000 in campaign contributions for gas and car repairs at Happy's Super Service in Spring Valley and also more than $200,000 in payments to Spring Valley City Bank.
Parties in the case agreed that the election board's citation of certain election laws had been in error "and the substance of that finding shows" that the election board found Mautino's campaign committee was in violation of two sections of the election code, the appellate court opinion said.
"We find Cooke's section 9-8.10 claims, if proved, would establish additional violations separate and apart from the Board's other findings," the appellate court opinion said. "That is, Cooke can be accorded additional relief on his complaint. We decline to issue substantive findings on these claims for the first time on appeal. Additionally, on remand, the Board can address for the first time whether the Committee may be subject to additional fines under the Election Code if it finds in favor of Cooke on any of his section 9-8.10 claims."