The state Board of Ethics has fined Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts $6,000 for filing three overdue campaign finance reports just hours after he qualified to run for re-election in the upcoming Oct. 24 primary.
The board said in a letter Friday that the fines stem from Roberts’ filing reports that were due in February, April and July on Sept. 9, shortly after he turned in his qualifying papers with the parish clerk.
Roberts on Monday said he will seek a waiver of the fines because software meant to facilitate the filing of the reports crashed when his staff tried to use it.
“Our position was that we did not want to turn in a report that had inaccurate information, and we kept them aware of the circumstances, and they told us they would issue a ruling, and we would have the right to appeal it,” Roberts said Monday.
The late filings were at the center of a lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to disqualify Roberts from running for re-election, as were accusations that he failed to file several necessary state income tax returns before qualifying.
Roberts testified that he mistakenly believed a person he paid to prepare his campaign finance reports had filed them before he signed up for re-election. And while the reports weren’t actually filed until hours later, the councilman argued the only thing that was required is that they were filed before qualifying ended on Sept. 10.
There was also testimony that Roberts had mailed his tax returns shortly before he signed up and that the state Department of Revenue had received those documents. Roberts said he waited as long as he did to file his returns because he first successfully appealed an issue he had with the Internal Revenue Service. His returns resulted in a significant refund for him, he said.
A judge ultimately dismissed the suit against Roberts, who has served on the Jefferson Parish Council for more than a decade.
The councilman then turned around and sued one of his two challengers — former Parish Council member and Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi — over commercials that recently alleged Roberts didn’t pay his taxes. Roberts is seeking the permanent cancellation of the commercials, alleging that they break a state law barring political candidates from making statements that they either know or should know are false.
That suit is scheduled to be tried this afternoon. Congemi has argued that his commercials are shielded by free speech protections that apply to hyperbole and opinion.
Joining Congemi and Roberts in the race for the incumbent’s at-large Parish Council seat is Jimmy Lawson. Congemi and Roberts are Republicans, and Lawson — also a former Parish Council member — is a Democrat.
A runoff, if necessary, would be held on Nov. 21.