Could Illinois' bookkeeping be at risk if its auditor is under investigation?
Could Illinois' bookkeeping be at risk if its auditor is under investigation? | Shutterstock.com

State Senate Democrat urges embattled Illinois auditor to take leave of absence

A fellow Democrat in the state Senate on Wednesday urged Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino to step down from office pending the outcome of a federal investigation into possible campaign spending violations.

A spokesman for Mautino previously confirmed that the auditor general is cooperating with an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office involving questions about Mautino's use of campaign funds while Mautino was a state legislator. 

“I am concerned that your honor is being called into question," wrote State Sen. Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines) in a letter to Mautino,  "and that the investigation could cast doubt on the integrity of your office and audits that are being conducted by your office.”

Calling the auditor general position “the highest-profile ethics watchdog post in state government,” Murphy stated, “I believe a leave of absence would be in the best interest of state government and the taxpayers of Illinois.”

Murphy told AMI Newswire that she decided to send the letter at this time because the state was nearing the end of the fiscal year — the time when the auditor general reviews a number of fiscal reports.  

Murphy indicated that it would only be appropriate for Mautino to return to the auditor’s post if he is cleared of all charges.

"The auditor general position should be beyond reproach," said the senator, who will continue to closely follow the case.

Mautino’s spokesman, Ryan Keith, told AMI Newswire that the auditor general had no comment about Murphy’s letter.

In addition to the federal probe, the state Board of Elections has launched an inquiry and given Mautino until July 1, to explain a number of questionable expenses that were tallied during his tenure in the state’s House of Representatives. Mautino, who is entrusted to audit public funds in Illinois and report the findings to the governor and the General Assembly, began serving as auditor on Jan. 1.

The legislature appoints the state’s chief auditor to a 10-year term.

Kirk Allen, one of the co-founders of the Edgar County Watchdogs, a citizens group that uncovered many of the details of Mautino’s campaign spending, told AMI Newswire Wednesday that Murphy’s letter is actually too easy on Mautino, especially compaired with the actions of some Republican lawmakers, who have sought Mautino’s resignation.

“He is under no pressure to resign, in our opinion,” Allen said. “He knows the General Assembly, his boss, does not have the votes to remove him.”

Mautino should be forced out before serving a year in office to avoid having Illinois taxpayers foot the bill for a pension spike that will occur once the auditor passes the one-year mark, he said.

“His actions to date prove his word cannot be trusted,” Allen said. “He assured the legislature early on that he would provide answers, and he has broken his word on that matter. That alone is enough to call for his resignation.”

From February through May, a number of Republican state lawmakers have sent the auditor general three letters calling for Mautino to provide answers to longstanding issues involving both his ethics and his finances. The auditor has yet to respond, according to Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville).

“These are serious ethical and possibly criminal questions that go to the very core of his fitness and ability to do his job safeguarding taxpayer dollars,” Wehrli said in a prepared statement. “The auditor general also needs to recognize that he answers to the General Assembly and the taxpayers we represent, and we are out of patience.”

Allen noted that the number of lawmakers demanding answers is up to 20, and he expects that number to increase as more issues involving the auditor general are exposed.

According to Allen and fellow Watchdog John Kraft, Mautino reported that fuel and repairs for his campaign vehicles between the years 2005 and 2015 totaled more than $213,000 – with all the money spent at a single business, Happy’s Super Service Station in Spring Valley. Other numbers that have raised eyebrows include more than $270,000 in campaign payments that went to a local bank.