County clerk looks to crack down on campaign finance violations

Left to right: Gordie Caverly, John Gleason and John Foster. Photo by Ben Gagnon

Left to right: Gordie Caverly, John Gleason and John Foster. Photo by Ben Gagnon

FLINT — Genesee County Clerk John Gleason is once again taking aim at politicians and candidates who have racked up campaign finance penalties in recent years.

At a July 22 press conference, Gleason said that the county is owed more than $134,000 in unpaid campaign finance fees and fines.

Altogether, 43 current officeholders, past candidates and political action committees in Flint and Genesee County are on the “debt list,” including several current and former school board members, city council members and township trustees throughout the county.

Although many individuals and committees on the list owe $500 or less in unpaid campaign fees and fines, others owe upward of $1,500 to more than $10,000.

The highest unpaid total, attributed to the Coalition for a Safer Flint committee, stands at $20,600.

Gleason said that most individuals and committees on the list haven’t disclosed required campaign finance information, while others have failed to report in a timely manner.

“When they’re late or they don’t fulfill their obligation of reporting, we send them a letter to let them know that they’re not compliant with the law,” he said. “It’s important for us (the county) to know who’s paying that candidate. For instance, who are they going to owe special favors to or more access to after the election? That’s why we want reporting and transparency in politics.”

Over time, the county can fine individuals and committees $500 per quarter and up to $2,000 annually for failing to report campaign finance information. Gleason said huge debts ($5,000 or more) have accrued because the Genesee County Treasurer’s Office hasn’t been aggressively pursuing debts from noncompliant candidates and committees.

Gleason also said that he hasn’t gotten any assistance from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office or the Secretary of State’s Office, despite sending them numerous written complaints about the unpaid fees.

“Those that are responsible for collecting these fees help drive up these costs,” he said. “There’s really nowhere in society where you can owe this amount of money and get away with it. You would have debt collectors calling you and knocking on your door.”

Gleason was joined at the press conference by local businessmen Gordie Caverly and John Foster, who said that political candidates and committees need to be held by the same standard that companies are with financial reporting.

Caverly is the regional vice president of Mid-State Consultants Inc., a professional engineering firm; Foster is the owner of Convergent Technology Partners, a Flint-based IT consulting firm.

“As a businessman, if I were to run astray of any requirements that I have for paying bills or filing returns…I would be notified,” said Foster. “I would get penalties and fines that I would have to pay. If I didn’t pay them, I could lose my business. Why haven’t political candidates been held responsible for not filing their reports?”

Caverly said that the county needs to get proactive with collecting the unpaid campaign fees so that the finances can be put to good use for residents.

“This money can be collected and used for a different program that’s suffering or for somebody to use in Genesee County,” he said. “We (as a county) are not in an economic position to sit here and ignore these issues anymore.”

To help speed up the process, Gleason said that he’s been negotiating with a debt collection agency to come in and collect the unpaid campaign penalties. However, he said that he needs the Genesee County Board of Commissioners to get onboard and sign a contract with the company.

As of 2020, officeholders, candidates and political action committees across Michigan’s 83 counties owe nearly $4 million in unpaid campaign finance fees and fines.