3 NC House members fined for late campaign finance reports

pgannon@ncinsider.comMarch 17, 2013 

  • The price of tardiness

    Statewide candidates and committees that contribute to statewide races are fined a $250 a day, with a cap of $10,000, for filing campaign finance reports late.

    Non-statewide candidates who file late pay fines of $50 a day, not to exceed $500.

    The State Board of Elections can also shut down committees that haven’t filed reports or paid fines, meaning they can’t take in or spend money.

    Patrick Gannon

— The campaign committees of three sitting N.C. House members didn’t file required campaign finance reports with the State Board of Elections on time this year and now face fines and potentially other repercussions. They are among scores of candidates, party committees and political action committees across the state receiving letters from the state board for failing to file reports on time.

The committee of Rep. Beverly Earle, a 10-term Charlotte Democrat, was shut down this month because the board hadn’t received a 2012 third-quarter report, which was due Oct. 29, or a signed cover page for its 2012 fourth-quarter report, which was due Jan. 10, according to the Board of Elections.

Rep. Rodney Moore, a Charlotte Democrat, and Rep. Carl Ford, a Rowan County Republican, didn’t submit fourth-quarter reports by the deadline and now face fines, according to board documents.

Kim Strach, deputy director for campaign reporting at the Board of Elections, said Earle filed her overdue reports on Thursday, but that her committee still owes $12,750 in penalties, stemming from those reports and another late filing in 2012. Earle’s committee, which had about $29,000 on hand at the end of 2012, can either pay or appeal the fines. Earle said she hoped the board would reduce the amount. She said she thought she had submitted her third-quarter report electronically and just recently discovered there was a problem.

“It wasn’t an intentional thing, so I’m hoping they will kind of work with me and be a little lenient,” Earle said.

Ford also filed his late report late last week, about two months after the deadline. He took the blame, saying he didn’t follow up with his campaign treasurer to ensure timely filing. Ford’s committee owes $1,250 in fines from that report and two other late filings in 2012, according to a penalty letter from the board. Ford said he planned to ask the board to waive the fines but added that he would pay them if necessary.

“It won’t happen again. I can assure you of that,” he said. “I just don’t operate like that.”

Moore said Thursday that his late report should be filed by Friday or the weekend. It hadn’t appeared in the state disclosure database by Friday afternoon.

“I had some records out there that I had to compile,” Moore said.

Moore’s committee will be fined, Strach said, but she hadn’t calculated the amount.

Moore said the report “just kind of slipped by me” during a busy period following the November elections. His committee also received a letter last June because it didn’t file a first-quarter report on time. Moore said filing one report a month, rather than several each year, would make sense. “Statements can be lost and your records can get murky,” he said.

10 percent noncompliance rate

Elections officials last week released a list of 154 political committees, including candidate committees, party committees and PACs, that hadn’t filed reports due in January. The list represents nearly one in 10 of the 1,725 committees across the state required by law to disclose their receipts and expenditures, Strach said. She said the 10 percent noncompliance rate is “pretty typical” for reporting cycles.

Jonathan Kappler, research director at the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation who regularly analyzes campaign finance data, suggested that the number of late filers is a symptom of a larger problem with the state’s campaign finance reporting system. He said reports are routinely turned in with “obvious errors” in them as well.

“As someone who tries to compile campaign finance information throughout the election cycle, it’s an endless source of frustration to have incomplete, inaccurate or nonexistent campaign finance information,” Kappler said.

He said reporting requirements exist to provide transparency about money in politics so the public can find out who’s giving to campaigns and how candidates are spending that cash.

“It’s hard to draw accurate conclusions about the real dynamics of what happened in a campaign when you’re working with incomplete information,” he said.

Board: Staff up; file online

Strach said her office does what it can with available staff to ensure reports are filed accurately and on time. She said additional staff to help review reports, as well as requiring committees to file their reports electronically, would help. Currently, roughly one-third of committees submit reports electronically, and elections staffers must type the others into the disclosure database, leaving less time to ensure compliance with disclosure laws. Plus, Strach said, software used for electronic filing alerts candidates of possible errors in reports.

“The staffing issue and electronic filing are two critical issues that the General Assembly needs to address if we want to ensure timely and compliant campaign finance filings,” Strach said.

Strach said the board would like to see the number of late filings go down. She said the board sends out regular reminders about reports, but that ultimately, the committees are responsible for complying with the law.

“Certainly, penalizing committees works for some …and doesn’t appear to be working for others,” she said.

Pat Gannon writes for the Insider, a political newsletter owned by The News & Observer. For more information on the Insider, visit www.ncinsider.com

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