A legal logjam that’s stymied efforts to collect fines for late filing of campaign finance reports has been broken, the state’s chief ethics administrator said Friday.
The resolution came in part because of a recent state district court judge’s ruling in a case involving the state Board of Ethics’ authority to enforce the campaign finance law.
“We now have some guidance from the court so we can proceed” with collection efforts, state ethics administrator Kathleen Allen said.
The dispute involved the role of the Ethics Board and the Ethics Adjudicatory Board in campaign finance matters.
A 2008 law left the Ethics Board with prosecutorial and investigatory powers but transferred the board’s judicial function to the new EAB, a panel composed of three administrative law judges.
The ethics agency had been caught between a district judge’s ruling and a contradictory decision from an Ethics Adjudicatory Board panel on what it takes to enforce payment of fines.
The conflict put ethics agency collection efforts on hold in some 350 cases.
The EAB had said it lacked jurisdiction in hearing appeals in the campaign finance cases.
But a new court ruling rejects that conclusion, Allen said.
The ruling by 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant, of Baton Rouge, stated that the Ethics Board is, by law, the Supervisory Committee on Campaign Finance Disclosure and because of that the EAB is the place for appeals, Allen said.
Allen said the ethics agency will be sending notices to those assessed late fees after the 2008 EAB law went into effect in situations where the fees have still not been paid.
The notices will let the individuals know that they have a right to appeal the assessment of the late fee to the Ethics Board as well as to the EAB.
“We are going to let them know that unless they do something, we are going to court” to force payment, Allen said.
“The question is whether or not they were given a right of appeal. Rather than address that later on and someone challenge, why not give them an opportunity to appeal now,” Allen said.
Letters going out to future delinquent filers will alert them of their appeal rights to both entities, she said.
Morvant had ruled that some cases needed to go to the EAB for hearing prior to the ethics agency seeking a court judgment to enforce collection.
An EAB panel disagreed, refusing to hear some 15 cases referred to it by the ethics agency. It cited lack of jurisdiction.
The decision came in a case involving Shawn Barney, an unsuccessful candidate for state Senate from New Orleans.
Allen said the issue got resolved as the result of a Morvant ruling in another case — this one involving litigation filed by Caroline Fayard, a failed candidate for lieutenant governor, and the state Democratic Party.
In the ruling, Morvant states that there is “a proper form to enforce and defend an alleged violation of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.”
He said the Legislature invested that authority with the Ethics Board in 1981.
Based on that ruling, Allen said, it is the agency’s position that the EAB, which hears appeals in ethics cases, does have jurisdiction in disputes involving candidates’ failures to file campaign finance reports too.