ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — When it comes to getting out of late fines, Jared DeMarinis has nearly heard them all.
DeMarinis, the director of candidacy and campaign finance for the Maryland State Board of Elections, is the person candidates call when they receive notification the state is assessing them for failing to file timely campaign finance reports.
“I get a lot of phone calls telling me a lot of personal problems,” DeMarinis said. “I know way too much about people’s financial records or their health than I really want to.”
Because the reports are filed electronically, about the only thing DeMarinis hasn’t heard is that the dog ate the report.
Last week, the board approved requests from 33 campaigns seeking waivers for failing to file required campaign finance reports.
Under current law, the state fines campaigns $20 per day for the first six days a report is late, then $10 per day thereafter. The maximum fine is capped at $250 and is the responsibility of the campaign chairman or the treasurer and cannot be paid with campaign funds.
The requests for waivers, obtained by The Daily Record under a Maryland Public Information Act Request, highlight a multitude of personal and technical reasons why some reports are late.
Many times, requests for waivers come from chairmen and treasurers who claim the fines will pose an undue financial hardship.
Some candidates have explanations involving personal tragedies.
In January, Emmett Guyton, a Baltimore City Council candidate in 2011, requested a waiver for $1,250 in fines he accumulated in 2011 and 2013.
Guyton, in a handwritten note to the board, cited computer problems and the death of his younger brother, which he said caused the death of his mother “within two weeks of burying her youngest child” as well as caring for another sibling he said had emotional problems.
“I am now finally back on track and I understand that this problem is not going away,” Guyton wrote.
By far, the most popular excuse is that the campaigns didn’t understand the software they are required to use.
The campaign for Judy H. Davis, a Democratic candidate for House of Delegates on the Eastern Shore, filed one such request.
Bev Yurek, treasurer for the campaign, wrote in an email to the board, “We are new. We now have a better understanding of the process.”
The report for Davis’ successful primary campaign was three days late. The board waived the $60 fine.
As many as a half dozen other campaigns asked for waivers, claiming that after putting in all the work to file the report they simply failed to hit the button that sends the report electronically to the board.
Dorothy P. Olds, a school board candidate in Easton, racked up $130 in fines after missing a deadline.
“I have never been a candidate before,” Olds wrote. “This is a new venture for me and I am learning my way.”
Board Chairwoman Bobbie S. Mack expressed empathy for the situations.
“A lot of these campaigns are run by families and volunteers, and it seems like the state is this entity dumping on you,” Mack said. “A good portion of these are running for the first time.”
Not everyone gets a waiver. DeMarinis said there were about a dozen campaigns that were denied. Typically, it’s because they are affiliated with more established candidates or the campaigns have had past problems or have had their cases referred to the Office of the State Prosecutor.
“Most of the campaigns that get waivers are ‘mom and pop’ operations who have never done this before and don’t really understand the system,” DeMarinis said.
But one thing all successful waivers have in common is that they all have reasons for the request, even if the excuse stretches the bounds of what is believable.
“Some people just call and ask for a waiver and I’m like, ‘No, you at least have to give me an excuse,'” DeMarinis said.
Former Del. Patrick J. Hogan, who is now a member of the board, said the number of waiver requests and excuses raise concerns.
“It left me with a sense that we’re too lenient,” Hogan said. “It’s pretty clear when you have to file. It’s very frustrating to see some of these.”
DeMarinis expects that some of the financial hardship requests will be eliminated in 2015, when the fines increase to a maximum of $500 but the campaigns will be allowed to pay the tab if the money is available.
Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com
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