New law could give campaign finance scofflaws a big chance

DOVER, Delaware (AP) – Delaware election officials failed to take action legally required against political candidates and committees that failed to file the required campaign finance reports, but the scofflaws could escape their liability under a new law that entered into force on January 1.

A report recently submitted to the State Electoral Council shows that candidates and committees owed more than $ 600,000 in fines for failing to file campaign finance reports just for the 2020 election cycle. Over 23,000 $ in additional uncollected fines were owed by candidates and committees who filed reports after the required time limits.

However, the financial penalties for missing reports have only increased as fines of $ 50 per day continue to accumulate until a report is filed.

Still, the Elections Department appears to have done little to try to collect unpaid fines or enforce reporting requirements, other than sending periodic notices to candidates and committees. In these notices, however, the ministry acknowledges that it is obligated to report violations to the Attorney General’s office, which could result in criminal misdemeanor charges, if a report is not filed within 30 days of the date of filing. ‘due date.

Meanwhile, under the new law, campaign finance scammers could avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines.

The legislation, which received only one dissenting vote in the General Assembly, eliminates the mandatory daily fine of $ 50 and instead says the commissioner “may” issue a citation. A citation would result in a fine of $ 50 per day, as well as mandatory training for filing reports, but the maximum fine would be capped at 100 days, or $ 5,000.

The law also allows the Election Commissioner, once a missing report has been filed, to negotiate a settlement of the unpaid fine, which could presumably include waiving the fine in its entirety. This provision is retroactive, which means that people who currently owe huge fines, some in excess of $ 100,000, could pay little or nothing.

The sponsor of the bill, which was proposed by the Elections Department, said he never intended to allow the scofflaws to avoid fines.

“They shouldn’t get away with it, and the Elections Department needs to be more aggressive in pursuing these … I certainly never intended to help give someone a break who has flagrantly violated the law, “said Senator Trey. Parade, D-Dover.

Paradee said he was “shocked” and “disgusted” when the Associated Press told him about the undisclosed reports and the uncollected fines.

“I didn’t know you had committees that were just simply out of compliance,” he said.

As of the last month, there have been six cases in which the pre-primary reports due in August and September 2020, and six cases in which the pre-election reports due in October 2020, had not been filed. There were 15 other cases in which annual reports for 2020, which were due on January 20 of this year, had not been filed.

But the attorney general’s office has only received one campaign finance referral from the Election Department since Jan. 1, 2020, according to spokesman Mat Marshall. Marshall also said the attorney general’s office was not aware of any referrals until 2020, even though campaign fundraising documents show significant violations in previous years.

A political action committee called Citizens for a Better Wilmington, for example, filed a report that was due in August 2018 more than two years late, in November 2020. The fine of $ 41,400 still has not yet come. been paid, according to the Ministry of Elections. website.

Election Commissioner Anthony Albence declined several requests for an interview from the PA.

“The ministry is fully aware of the political committees (…) which have not submitted the required campaign fundraising reports, and also knows the amounts of unpaid fines owed by the treasurers and / or the candidates of the political committees who are accumulated due to not filed (and filed late) campaign finance reports, ”Albence wrote in an email Nov. 18. “The ministry is working diligently to address and resolve these issues, while simultaneously administering its many other priorities and responsibilities. “

Following the PA’s requests, however, Albence sent further notices of violation to several committees advising them that he would refer their cases to the Attorney General’s office “as required by law”, if the pending reports were not deposited before December 30.

Beneficiaries were also invited to contact the Elections Department to arrange payment of unpaid fines.

“Your failure to resolve this unpaid debt to the state may result in collection action against you in a Delaware court,” the letters added.

Targets for the letters include the Black Caucus PAC, which owed more than $ 140,000 in mid-December; Va’Shun Turner, a former Wilmington city councilor and 2020 city treasurer candidate who owed more than $ 144,000; and Ronnell Page, a former candidate for Wilmington city council who owed more than $ 120,000.

Black Caucus PAC founder Lovely Lacey, a former legislative assistant who also worked for the Delaware Democratic Party and used the party headquarters as a mailing address for her and the PAC, did not respond to emails and messages on cellphone. Turner promised to recall an AP reporter, but never did.

Page filed his three pending reports a day after the Associated Press questioned him.

“I am totally blown away by this conversation,” Page said, adding that he had never received any violation letters from the Election Department while acknowledging that his wife, who was his campaign treasurer, had received two reminders by email in January before the deadline for the 2020 annual report.

“There has to be something that can be done,” Page said of his exceptional fines. “This number is astronomical.”

Page could very well make his wish come true.

The December 30 deadline mentioned in the latest violation notices is only hours before the new whistleblowing law goes into effect.