GREENSBURG – Five political candidates and office holders have failed to fully complete their campaign finance reports in the last three years, putting them in violation of Indiana election law, according to the Decatur County Clerk’s office.
The Decatur County Election Board on Tuesday decided to have Decatur County Clerk Janet Chadwell, who is a member of the Election Board, send those not in compliance a letter requesting that they amend their reports by March 3 to avoid any potential fines. Chadwell said the letters were mailed Tuesday afternoon.
Indiana law requires that political candidates file an annual campaign finance report — unless they disband their candidate committee, which is created when the candidates file for office. Candidates often disband their committees in January after the election when they file their final campaign finance report. A committee can be disbanded by checking a box on the first page of the report, but only if the balance in the committee’s account is zero.
Five candidates from elections within the last three years had not disbanded their committees, but did not file annual campaign finance reports for 2012 and 2013, said Faith Koors, deputy clerk in Decatur County. The candidates are City Council President Blake O’Mara, Decatur County Commissioner John Richards, City Councilman Terry Wagner, and former City Council candidates Larry Bower and Oris Reece. Another candidate, Decatur County Prosecutor James Rosenberry, has amended his report for 2012 and filed the report for 2013 late.
The deadline to file the annual report for 2013 was Jan. 15 of this year. The Daily News began inquiring about missing reports shortly thereafter. The County Election Board took up the issue in a public meeting Tuesday morning at the Decatur County Courthouse.
The responsibility to disband the committee or file the annual report lies with the candidates, said Bradley King, co-director of the Indiana Election Division, the state agency that oversees elections.
The law that requires candidates to disband their committee or file annual campaign finance reports serves to inform the public, he said. Voters have a legitimate interest in knowing where the candidates’ money comes from and how it is spent, King said. If a committee is disbanded, voters can be sure that the candidate no longer is raising or spending money for another campaign — and if they retain the committee, voters have the opportunity to read in the annual reports how much money the candidates have raised in the prior year and what, if anything, they have done with the funds.
King said the Indiana Election Division typically has about 120 committees annually that either fail to file an annual report or file it late. In those cases, the Indiana Election Commission, much like county election boards, can impose a fine of $50 per day, up to $1,000, for failure to comply with the law.
Candidates typically have a chance to appear before the commission or board to explain why they have not filed the paperwork, and the board or commission can, with a unanimous vote, decide to reduce or waive the fines.
The Decatur County Election Board on Tuesday decided to instruct Chadwell to send a letter to the affected candidates to allow them to get into compliance by March 3. Besides Chadwell, the board also includes Darryl Smith and June Ryle. The board initially discussed six candidates who had failed to file annual reports, but revised that number to five Tuesday afternoon following further research.
Chadwell told the Daily News last week that a lot of candidates, especially those who lose, believe that their final campaign finance reports automatically disband their committees.
“A lot of times that’s just on the part of the candidate not being aware,” she said.
Chadwell said she was not aware of any occasion on which a candidate had been fined by the local election board because of improperly filed campaign finance reports.
If candidates make an honest attempt, the board has been disinclined to issue a fine, Chadwell said.
In an email she sent Tuesday afternoon, Chadwell said the Election board understands “it would be easy to overlook ‘disbanding their committee’ on the report form. The CEB believes most candidates do not fully understand their responsibilities in filing the required reports and should not be penalized at this time.”
City Council President Blake O’Mara said that he thought he had disbanded his committee and therefore thought did not have to file annual campaign finance reports. He said that after he was elected to the City Council he had not planned to run for office any time soon, so he had no need for a candidate committee.
“I thought that was taken care of,” he said.
Rosenberry filed his report for 2013 on Jan. 29, about two weeks after the deadline.
“For some reason I thought that I had more time,” he said.
He has kept his committee open because it still carries a balance of about $300. Once he decides what to do with the funds — give it back to the contributor, give it to another candidate or to the party — he said he plans to disband the committee.
Wagner and Richards, who are current office holders, could not be reached.
King said that when candidates run for office, they sign paperwork that says that they have read the campaign finance manual and agree to comply with the law.
“How many people diligently read that, I’m not sure,” he said.
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