$33.2 Million Owed

 

Political scofflaws hold out on fines

Monday, June 14, 2010 02:52 AM
By James Nash
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

In the year since the state announced a crackdown on political candidates who together owed more than $30 million in unpaid fines, state officials recovered less than $15,000 and the amount of unpaid debt actually grew.

Former candidates and election committees now owe the state

$33.2 million in unpaid fines for violations such as tardy filings of campaign-finance statements, knowingly making false statements in advertisements, misuse of campaign funds and disguising the source of campaign contributions.

Last May, when the Ohio Elections Commission and Attorney General Richard Cordray's office said they would pursue the scofflaws more aggressively, the unpaid fines stood at $31.7 million.

Cordray spokeswoman Holly Hollingsworth said the efforts will bear fruit eventually. She noted that the office can't go after debtors until the Elections Commission certifies an account for collection. No accounts were certified for collection in 2007 and 2008, but 34 have been certified since July 2009.

"There is a bit of a lag on the impact in terms of not having accounts certified," Hollingsworth said.

State officials all but acknowledge that they will never recover the full amount owed. In many cases, former candidates owe $100,000 or more for missing a filing deadline and incurring $100-per-day late fees over the course of several years.

Elections Commission Executive Director Philip C. Richter said officials in his and Cordray's office have ramped up efforts to identify the candidates and committees from which they can collect money.

"Last summer, my staff worked with their office to identify certain matters that would probably be seen as uncollectable and those which are still active," Richter said. "The commission staff has continued to send out notice to parties and collect funds and the (attorney general's) staff has continued to be in contact with commission staff on those matters for which they have located parties and worked to develop settlements."

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