The state Board of Ethics decided Friday to go to court to resolve a dispute that’s impeding its efforts to collect fines from violators of campaign finance reporting laws.
The Ethics Board is caught between a state district court judge’s ruling and a contradictory decision from an Ethics Adjudicatory Board on what it takes to enforce payment of fines.
“It is very difficult for us to figure out where we should be” given the conflicting rulings, Ethics Board Chairman Frank Simoneaux said. “All of this is an effort to resolve who has authority to enact penalties … jurisdiction over campaign finance disclosure laws. It begs for clarification.”
“What is the law? What do we follow?” Simoneaux asked.
Simoneaux called the situation “a quagmire.”
The conflict is stymieing board efforts involving some 350 cases, according to ethics agency records.
The board voted to refile a case involving Shawn Barney, an unsuccessful candidate for a New Orleans state Senate seat as well as seek a declaratory judgment in the 19th Judicial District Court.
Board member Jean Ingrassia, of Gonzales, questioned the move toward two separate court filings. “Could there be two conflicting findings?” Ingrassia asked.
Board member Blake Monrose, of Lafayette, who proposed going to court, said the Ethics Board could move to consolidate the two filings and end up with one judge.
The dispute is over the role of the Ethics Board and the Ethics Adjudicatory Board.
A 2008 law, pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, left the Ethics Board with prosecutorial and investigatory powers but transferred the board’s judicial function to the new Ethics Adjudicatory Board, called EAB and comprised of three administrative law judges.
In November, state District Judge William Morvant, of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, ruled in a case involving Barney that the EAB has jurisdiction in cases requiring a public hearing to institute collection of fines.
The EAB rejected that notion, turning down hearings in 15 campaign finance cases because of lack of jurisdiction.
Prior to Morvant’s ruling, the Ethics Board had conducted hearings prior to seeking judgments in the 19th Judicial District Court to collect unpaid fines. The board decided not to appeal Morvant’s ruling and started filing cases with the EAB.
On Friday, the board decided to ask the EAB to put a hold on pending cases until there is a court ruling.
The board also said it would continue to conduct public hearings in cases where charges are issued against candidates who fail to file campaign finance reports.
Where there are specific fines imposed for late filing of reports, there’s no automatic assessment in cases of candidates who ignore the law and fail to file, Monrose said. That causes the cases to be handled differently, he said.
In other action:
HOLDEN LATE FEE UPHELD: The state Board of Ethics declined a request by Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden to waive a $2,500 late fee assessed because he filed his amended 2008 annual personal financial disclosure statement 449 days late.
Holden sought forgiveness of the fine. He said he did not receive a notice of delinquency that was sent to his residence and signed for by his son. After he received a second notice, the amended report was filed within two days.
“To uphold this fine would be a hardship to me and my family financially. For my son, it is a lesson learned,” Holden wrote as he sought the fine waiver.
FAYARD APPEAL REJECTED: Rejected an appeal by former lieutenant governor candidate Caroline Fayard to waive a $1,000 fine assessed for the late filing of two special campaign finance reports. Involved are contributions that are required to be reported within 48 hours of their receipt during the final days of campaigns.
The omitted contributions totaled some $21,000.
Jenny Jackson, an attorney for Fayard, said the contributions in question were sent to the office of Fayard’s father, attorney Calvin Fayard.
“The campaign treasurer had no knowledge those campaign contributions had been received until she was reconciling the campaign account,” said Jackson. That’s when the campaign submitted amended reports, she said.
POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE FINE: Assessed a $3,200 fine against LA Democrats, a political action committee of the state party, for late filing of two supplemental campaign finance reports. Party chairman Claude “Buddy” Leach had argued that the political party PAC was not required to file the 48-hour reports required of candidates.