GREENSBURG – The Decatur County Election Board met Friday to investigate a formal complaint made against a candidate running for the office of Decatur County Sheriff.
Election Board members present for the hearing were attorney Jenny Sturgis, Ryan Maddux, Decatur County Clerk Adina Roberts and Deputy Clerk Patricia Louagie. Sturgis conducted the hearing.
The first concern discussed involved a photocopied handwritten letter that was mailed to an undetermined number of local households prior to the November 8 general election. The letter was enclosed in an addressed, stamped envelope sporting a star with the name of Tara Durant in the return address area.
The letter did not contain a required disclaimer disclosing how the mailer was paid for.
A second mailing of a postcard is also being investigated for the same reason. The formal complaint filed involved the letter, but not the postcard.
Sturgis explained that the primary purpose of the disclaimer is to insure the recipient knows who paid for the mailer. “Paid for by (committee, organization, or individual)” is an appropriate example.
“The disclaimer is to prevent anonymous campaign materials from going out, especially late in the election where the candidate would not have an opportunity to respond, and the second is to prevent campaign finance violations,” Sturgis explained. “If you were to send out a mailer without identifying who paid for it, it would be very difficult for the overseeing bodies to discern whether or not the subsequent campaign finance report filed would have a proper tracking of that expenditure.”
The Indiana Code violated for the omission of such disclaimers is IC 393-2.5, and only pertains to mailings of 100 or less.
At this juncture, Sturgis said that since evidence that more than 100 or more of the handwritten photocopied letters or the postcards was not present, she was unsure whether the investigation would continue.
In addition, it was reported the prosecutor’s office had also received complaints concerning an advertisement run in the Daily News that failed to include the disclaimer.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Doug Brown was in attendance at the investigative hearing and told the board that he was more interested in the Daily News advertisement that failed to include a disclaimer.
“My views are similar to yours (Sturgis’s), but there needs to be proof that more than 100 of these [letters/postcards] were sent out,” Brown said. “I would assume that the distribution on the Daily News advertisement meets the threshold, but that is a criminal investigation and those details are confidential. I would consider that [the issue of the mailers] separate, but our concerns are probably the same.”
It should be noted the disclaimer in question did not appear with the advertisement in the Daily News as a result of an oversight on the part of the newspaper, and a correction indicating as much was published in the following edition of the Daily News.
Sturgis said that unless evidence was presented that proved more than 100 of the letters and 100 of the postcards were mailed, the investigation could not go forward.
At this point, the relevant Campaign Finance Report was admitted into evidence, and while it did not show the actual number of letters or postcards that were mailed, it did provide evidence of how the mailers were paid for and when they were mailed.
Without further evidence to consider, a formal administrative hearing to consider the handwritten letter allegedly written by Tara Durant was scheduled for 10 a.m. December 20.