Campaign late fees piling up

CONYERS -- Several state legislators in the Rockdale County delegation have accumulated hundreds of dollars in late fees from not filing campaign contribution reports on time, according to the State Ethics Commission.

Invoices for those accumulating late fees were mailed out Friday to legislators. The fees are from failing to file campaign contribution reports on time.

Among local legislators, Rep. Pam Stephenson, D-Decatur, has $1,500 in late fees that go back to 2004. Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, D-Lithonia, who was elected to office in 2008, has $975 in late fees.

Rep. Toney Collins, D-Conyers, who was also elected to office last year, has $450 in late fees and Rep. Randall Mangham, D-Decatur, has $75 for one late filing from last year.

Neither of the state senators, Ronald Ramsey, D-Lithonia or John Douglas, R-Social Circle, had any late fees listed, according to the Ethics Commission Web site.

Filing campaign contribution reports late is a frequent occurrence, but most fees are paid. There is a five-day grace period for most reports. Those past due are assessed $25. The late fee goes up to $75 after if the report is late another five days.

Stephenson is among some of the highest when it comes to accumulated late fees. Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale, carries $1,300 in late filing fees.

According to Tom Plank, acting executive secretary of the State Ethics Commission, his office had done random audits of office holders and candidates to keep track of late fees. However, staff reductions from 22 workers to 10 has limited their ability to follow up on past due fees.

"There were times when we were able to do more random audits, and take the highest and work our way down like that," he said. "In the future we will certainly start doing that again."

Usually, fines are addressed when a complaint is filed against an official on a different matter. Plank said that during the investigation, if late fees are there staff will add them onto the original allegation that will be dealt with by Ethics Commission.

As a caveat, the process of filing campaign disclosure forms is complex. Candidates who win and hold office file twice a year. If it's an election year and they're running, candidates are required to file five times, March, June, September, October and December.

Plank said candidates can also file only if their campaigns are active and noted most campaigns do not begin until the second quarter of an election year.

Also, the five-day deadline can be extended or changed if it overlaps holidays or weekends. Another filing, called a two-day filing, for reporting contributions $1,000 or more between Oct. 31 and election day also adds to the confusion.

Plank said some officials take the report filings seriously and never miss a deadline while others are frequent late filers.

"To me, it seems to be a bit of a gotcha game if someone has a long career, and they've never been late; that would be a shock," Plank said. "But at the same time you have these chronic late filers, maybe less than 10 percent, where that is just how they operate."