City clerk reluctant to punish late campaign filers

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The procedure for filing reports about campaign donations and expenditures began as a muddy puddle for some City Council candidates, but time has settled the churning waters.

In a previous article, The Business Journal reported that some candidates were confused by the filing requirements due to the city’s adoption of the Fair Campaign and Practices Act after the election season was under way. Also, some City Council candidates were filing reports on their campaign expenditures and contributions late.

Charles Wingate, contender for a District Two seat, said candidates sometimes ask contributors to hold off on donating until late in the campaign — after a campaign filing has occurred.

“They do not want the voters and other candidates to know who is donating money (to their campaign),” he said. “This is a campaign practice that is done a lot. I personally frown upon it, because although it’s not illegal, I think it is unethical and a deception that is played upon voters, because voters should know the certain industries or people that are donating the money.”

The city so far has failed to penalize anyone for late filings, despite a section of the city code that calls for fines of up to $500 for those who don’t comply with filing procedures. The code also permits the city to require those candidates forfeit their rights to office if they win the election.

“I’m not out to deliberately punish anyone as long as they come into compliance,” said City Clerk Kathryn Young. The only circumstances under which she would apply the penalty, she said, would be if a candidate adamantly opposed turning in forms. That hasn’t been a problem yet, she said.

Situations like early filing and new regulations can sidetrack candidates.

Young said when she notices a candidate has not filed a report on time, she calls them to inform them of their tardiness and give an absolute deadline to get their expenditures in.

Young said that both Margaret Radford, running for District 4 and Sallie Clark, District 3 candidate, wanted to file early; however, most candidates began filing in January.

“I told them (in June 2000) that these forms (concerning expenditures and contributions) are liable to change,” said Young. “We just were giving them (some method of reporting) in the meantime because council was possibly going to enact the Fair Campaign Practices Act.” Passing the act would require different rules, regulations and filing forms for candidates.

Radford said she doesn’t blame anyone for the confusion because the filing requests came much earlier than the January starts candidates traditionally used.

“I don’t have any desire to differ with Kathryn Young,” said Radford. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s ancient history and I’m complying with the rules and other campaigners are filing correctly.”

Clark, however, was concerned because her opponent, Linda Barley had a bank account that was still open from her previous City Council campaign, which she is using for her current campaign. The account had money left over from the previous campaign, but Barley did not start filing contributions and expenditures until February.

Clark said it seemed there was inconsistency in that what was required for some was not required of others.

“I don’t recall when it was that I got the first (filing) information,” Barley said. “It may have been in October, or November —- it was sometime late last fall.

“Whatever it (the date) was, it was my impression that I didn’t need to file until I got new campaign contributions, or opened a new bank account.”

However, Young sees it differently.

“That is not my error, that’s her error,” said Young. “Barley came to me in October and wanted campaign filings so she could start filing. The forms are very explicit that you should put down your beginning balance, and she was also told (that) once the ordinance (the Fair Campaign and Practices Act) goes to council that the forms and dates could change.”

However most candidates said they are focusing on winning and any concerns with filing are out the window. “I think we may have all interpreted the information differently,” said Wingate. “But it’s not that hard. You spend your money: you have to file. What’s there not to understand?”