Embattled auditor general told to step aside
The Chicago Tribune has called for embattled Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino to step aside until he resolves nagging campaign finance questions that his critics say major media outlets have largely ignored for months.
The newspaper said in an editorial Monday that Mautino should take an unpaid leave from his position as the state’s top financial watchdog until federal and state investigations into campaign spending issues -- dating back to his days as a state lawmaker -- can be resolved.
For months, Mautino has stonewalled the state Board of Elections’ request for information about campaign funds divvied out to a single gas station, as well as payments made to a local bank, according to the newspaper. Meanwhile, the board has postponed a status hearing about the case to Feb. 3.
“Only in corruption-numb Illinois would Mautino remain on the job under those circumstances,” the Tribune said.
Fuel and repair payments to Happy’s Super Service Station in Spring Valley totaled more than $200,000 during Mautino’s legislative service from 2005-15. Other matters state officials want answers to include more than $270,000 in campaign funds paid to Spring Valley City Bank.
The newspaper’s editorial comes after citizen watchdogs and journalists have criticized the mainstream media for not highlighting the issue, which came to light after Mautino was appointed to the auditor general position last year.
“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 (D-Chicago), and the handicapping of a state agency or two,” Ulysses Arn, a self-described citizen journalist, said in a blog post this year.
Mautino’s attorney has argued that the auditor general can’t answer the state election board’s questions because that could leave him open to self-incrimination in the federal probe, which is being overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois.
But the editorial concluded that the expectations of taxpayers in the state need to take precedence, especially since the elections board has been waiting for answers for more than half a year.
“That’s not what taxpayers expect of, or deserve from, the top auditor in state government,” the editorial said. “Step aside, Auditor General Mautino, until these matters get resolved.”
Others have also tried to shine the spotlight on Mautino’s financial dealings. Twelve GOP members of the state legislature have called for the auditor general to leave office, and concerns about Mautino’s campaign finances have led some Democratic state lawmakers to speak out as well. Among them is state Sen. Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines), who called on Mautino to step aside pending the outcome of the federal investigation.
“I believe a leave of absence would be in the best interest of state government and the taxpayers of Illinois,” she said in June.
In addition, Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general, has filed a legal brief in support of the state elections board’s position.
Other critics have argued that Mautino is stalling to stay in office long enough to secure a larger pension before leaving office.