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Lawmakers to ethics panel: We don’t need no stinkin’ late fees
By JIM WALLS
Dec. 14, 2011 — Remember the Georgia Legislature’s promise last year to impose tough new penalties for violators of campaign finance laws? Not gonna happen — at least not yet.
Starting this year, candidates are assessed a $125 fee for filing a disclosure late. An additional $250 fee was supposed to be imposed when disclosures are 15 days late, and $1,000 on top of that after 45 days. Total late fees could be $1,375 for a single report, paid out of a candidate’s pocket and not campaign funds. For some candidates, that would be like the proverbial 2×4 upside the head.
But the law also specifies that candidates must be notified by certified mail before the additional fees may be imposed. That would cost $5.03 per violation — twice that if a campaign committee also must be notified.
The State Campaign Finance Commission apparently doesn’t have that kind of cash lying around — not when thousands of filers owe late fees. Commission members have agreed it’s not fair to send notices to some violators unless they can afford to send them to all. So they haven’t sent any.
The commission doesn’t even know how many filings were late. (My very rough estimate shows more than 7,000 filers owe late fees, many of them for more than one report. So that could cost $35,000 or more.)
Legislators knew all this when they approved the commission’s FY2012 budget. The state Senate had proposed giving the commission $30,000 more for enforcement in the coming year, but the House said no and took it back.
The dilemma means that a chronic non-filer like Rep. Rashad Taylor, who could otherwise face out-of-pocket fines of $2,750 for two late filings in 2011, only owes $250.
“It’s a mess,” commission executive secretary Holly LaBerge said. “I inherited a mess.”