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    Bills filed to excuse candidates’ late filing fees

     

    By JIM WALLS

    Feb. 19, 2015 — Up to four years of penalties for filing late campaign disclosures could be excused under bills filed this week in the Georgia Legislature.

    A 2010 law required candidates for city and county offices to file campaign finance reports online with the state rather than on paper with local election superintendents. Many candidates pushed back, particularly in smaller communities, and the mandate was later relaxed and then, in 2014, rescinded.

    Now, citing faults and malfunctions of the state ethics commission’s online filing system, Rep. Barry Fleming and Senate Ethics Chairman Rick Jeffares are sponsoring bills to waive the late fees — $125 and up — imposed on those local candidates.

    Their legislation cites an October report by the state auditor noting that the commission sometimes imposed late fees when filings weren’t actually late. Candidates have also complained that the online system could be painfully slow, and sometimes wouldn’t work at all, during the busiest filing periods.

    Under both bills, late filers could get the penalties waived and the alleged violations expunged. Candidates would be given a “rebuttable presumption” that they had filed or tried to file their disclosures on time but were stymied by the commission’s computer problems.

    The commission could overcome that presumption by establishing that a filer “knowingly and willfully refused to file the required report.” Given its backlog of unresolved complaints and other work, though, it seems unlikely the commission could spare the necessary resources to collect a $125 late fee.

    Read the bills: Fleming’s HB370 and Jeffares’ SB127.

     

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