Delaware is expected to implement a new law that could reduce fines for campaign financiers.
The law, which will take effect Jan. 1, will eliminate the current daily fine of $50 for each day a financial report is not filed. Instead, a citation may be filed by the Elections Commissioner in certain circumstances, with citations including the pre-existing $50 per day fine and mandatory report training. The maximum fine will be capped at 100 days, which accumulates to $5,000.
Political action committees could be a major target of the law. In November 2020, a PAC called Citizens for a Better Future filed a report two years after it was supposed to be due. According to the Delaware Department of Elections, the $41,400 fine resulting from the filing has not yet been paid. Other PACs who have yet to pay their fines include the Black Caucus PAC, which owes more than $140,000 in fines.
If the candidate or PAC cannot pay the fine they face, they may be able to renegotiate with the Elections Commissioner. Once a missing report has been filed, the outcome of the negotiations may determine whether or not the target will pay the fine in full.
The sponsor of the legislation, which was proposed by the Department of Elections, said allowing fraudsters to avoid fines was never his intention.
“They shouldn’t get away with it, and the Department of Elections needs to be more aggressive in their pursuit…I certainly never intended to help give someone a break blatant disregard of the law,” said Senator Trey Paradee. .
Paradee said he was “shocked” and “disgusted” when The Associated Press informed him of the unclassified reports and uncollected fines.
“I had no idea you had committees that were so non-compliant,” he said.
As of last month, there were six cases in which pre-primary reports due in August and September 2020, and six cases in which general pre-election reports due in October 2020, had not been filed. There were 15 other instances in which annual returns for 2020, which were due January 20 this year, were not filed.
But the attorney general’s office has received only one campaign finance recommendation from the Department of Elections since Jan. 1, 2020, according to spokesman Mat Marshall. Marshall also said the attorney general’s office is not aware of any dismissals prior to 2020, even though campaign finance documents show significant violations in previous years.
Election Commissioner Anthony Albence declined several interview requests from the AP.
“The department is fully aware of the political committees … who have failed to file required campaign finance reports, and is also aware of the amounts of unpaid fines owed by political committee treasurers and/or nominees who have accrued due to non-filed (and late-filed) campaign finance returns,” Albence wrote in a Nov. 18 email. “The department is working diligently to address and resolve these issues, while simultaneously administering its many other priorities and responsibilities.”
Following questions from the AP, however, Albence sent new 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 outstanding reports were not resolved. were not filed before December 30.
Recipients were also asked to contact the Department of Elections to arrange payment of outstanding fines.
“Your failure to resolve this outstanding debt to the state may result in the filing of a collection action against you in a Delaware court,” the letters add.
The targets of the letters include Va’Shun Turner, a former Wilmington councilman and candidate for 2020 city treasurer who owed more than $144,000; and Ronnell Page, a former Wilmington council candidate who owed more than $120,000.
Page filed his three outstanding 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 violation letters from the Department of Elections 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 must be something that can be done,” Page said of his unpaid fines. “That number is astronomical.”
Page could very well get his wish.
The December 30 deadline mentioned in the latest violation notices is just hours before the new reporting law takes effect.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.