State fines city Dems for missed finance reports
WOONSOCKET – The state Board of Elections is seeking $11,754 in fines and late fees from the Democratic City Committee for missing deadlines on the filing of campaign finance reports that date back to the third quarter of 2011.
The committee has now filed an appeal with the BOE to seek a waiver or a reduction of the fines.
Committee Chairman Michael Harris said the board missed its filing deadlines basically because there was no board to file them.
“The committee was defunct for approximately four years,” he said.
While Harris couldn’t name any of the current members, he said a group of interested city residents recently decided to reconstitute the board and appointed him chairman. He said none of the current members of the committee are the same as those who served on the panel when the group fell into dormancy.
Richard Thornton, state director of campaign finance, said Harris filed the appeal on behalf of the committee on April 1. As far as he knows, Thornton said it’s the first time anyone from the Democratic City Committee has contacted the board of elections for at least a couple of years.
The city committee failed to file 16 reports on time since the third quarter of 2011, Thornton said. On March 17, 2014, nine reports were filed by the committee in attempts to get up to date. Thereafter there were seven more reports that became overdue and those were eventually filed on April 1.
The base fine for an overdue campaign finance report is $25, plus $2 for each day the report remains undocumented by the BOE, according to Thornton.
Thornton said it’s not uncommon for political entities to rack up fines after members fall away, lose interest or even die. The BOE sends a minimum of two written notifications to the contact person of record, but sometimes it’s possible no one gets the message.
Unless a political entity like the city committee officially takes a vote to dissolve, however, the law holds it responsible for filing timely finance reports, according to Thornton.
“The appeal will be heard on Wednesday, May 18, at 7 p.m. at which time the board will consider whether there will be a waiver or a reduction of the accumulated fines,” he said.
In cases where fines and late fees total $5,000 or less, Thornton said, the parties may negotiate the terms of a settlement privately. But when the amount exceeds the cap, the board must consider an appeal during an open meeting.
Harris said he’s optimistic elections officials will look kindly on the committee’s predicament.
“We’re hoping, we spoke to them, they understand the situation, as unfortunately the committee was inactive for all these years,” he said. “We’re requesting a hearing so we can explain the reasons why there are fines.”
According to his records, Thornton said, the Woonsocket Democratic City Committee has no operating funds in its account. On the other hand, the Woonsocket Republican City Committee has approximately $1,651 in its account, and all of its campaign finance reports are current.