GENESEE COUNTY — The 2018 election season might be over, but campaign finance penalties are still looming large in Genesee County.
According to Genesee County Clerk John Gleason, a total of $87,700 is owed to the county in unpaid campaign finance fines and fees. The offenders: dozens of local candidates and political action committees.
While some individuals and committees have accrued around $500 in penalties, others have accumulated as much as $12,000.
Gleason said that many of the violations are due to campaign organizers failing to disclose required financial information.
“When the election is over, they (campaign leaders) walk away and don’t inform their treasurers (about the finance rules),” he said. “We give them the forms, but they don’t come back to close out the books.”
Gleason added that the problem is hardly confined to just Genesee County. According to a March 2018 report from MIRS, officeholders across the state have racked up $1.3 million in unpaid campaign finance penalties.
As the chief elections officer for the county, Gleason said he is very concerned about the trend of violations. Moreover, he is continuing to urge state lawmakers to reject bills that would potentially change the way campaign finance rules are enforced.
In recent weeks, legislation has passed through the Michigan State Senate that would shift the oversight of campaign finance violations away from the Secretary of State’s office to a bi-partisan commission.
Gleason has criticized State Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), Senate Bill 1250’s sponsor, for having ulterior motives in pushing the legislation. Robertson, as it turns out, has racked up $4,450 in penalties over the last four years and still has $1,681 in outstanding fines owed to the Secretary of State.
Robertson’s campaign account is also at the center of an ongoing embezzlement investigation by the Michigan State Police.
“It appears that this is a last gasp effort from Senator Robertson to escape his (financial) obligation,” Gleason said. “I think we need to have a thorough vetting of his campaign finance report.”
Gleason has praised incoming Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for her campaign promise to “make it harder to cheat and easier to vote.” He said that Benson’s victory in the general election was the catalyst for Robertson’s legislation.
“I think (Robertson) is afraid of what the new administration is going to find out about what went on with him and his office,” he said. “He’s putting up every obstacle that he can to limit Jocelyn Benson’s opportunity.”
As Robertson’s bill awaits consideration in the State House, Gleason said he hopes that legislators will see the necessity of keeping campaign finance oversight in the hands of the Secretary of State.
“We need Jocelyn Benson to come in and very aggressively hold scofflaws accountable,” he said. “You need confidence from the top down that laws will be enforced.”