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Originally published: 2013-11-01 10:47:43
Last modified: 2013-11-01 12:47:31

Required reports not filed by political committees

by Anna Oakes

Campaign finance reports show that two political party committees in Watauga County and a Chapel Hill-based political action committee have contributed to candidates in the Boone municipal elections but have not filed required disclosure reports.

Treasurers for the Watauga County Democratic Party and the Watauga County Republican Women's Club indicated this week that they were working with elections officials to ensure they were in compliance with reporting requirements.

The Watauga County Democratic Party contributed a total of $1,385 to Democratic candidates Andy Ball, Rennie Brantz and Jennifer Pena and unaffiliated candidate Quint David, according to the 35-day campaign disclosure reports for the period ending Sept. 24.

Each candidate's 35-day report, filed with the Watauga County Board of Elections, listed a $346.25 contribution from the Watauga County Democratic Party on the contributor forms and also listed $346.25 on the line item for total political party committee contributions -- except Pena, whose total also included $200 from the campaign committees of Loretta Clawson and Lynne Mason.

All political party committees file mid-year and year-end disclosure reports with the State Board of Elections. But in 2008, state campaign finance laws changed to require that if a party committee, candidate or political action committee makes a contribution to a municipal candidate, "the committee must file a report, based on the municipal schedule, with the local county Board of Elections," said Jane Steffens, SBOE education and disclosure specialist.

Watauga elections staff said the county Democratic Party had not filed a 35-day report.

Watauga County Elections Director Jane Hodges said the local political parties have never filed disclosure reports with the local board.

Susan Phipps, treasurer for the Watauga County Democratic Party, said the county party does not give money directly to candidates, although it does spend money on mailers and other materials promoting certain candidates. The $346.25 contributions to Boone candidates came from a fundraiser held earlier this year, she said, in which donors contributed money to a pot which was distributed equally among the four candidates.

The donors made out checks to the party, which was deposited in the party's account, and the party then wrote checks to the four candidates' campaigns and gave them a list of the people who donated, she said.

"Their finance people should have reported that money came from those individuals, not from the party," Phipps said. Phipps said she had contacted Hodges and that there was a possibility the candidates' 35-day reports could be amended.

Amy Strange, SBOE compliance specialist, did not respond as of presstime to a question on whether or not the Democratic Party should have filed the 35-day disclosure report with the local board. Previously, Strange said she needed more information about the fundraiser, including who contributors were asked to make checks payable to and what information was provided to them regarding how their contributions would be used.

Also making a contribution to a municipal candidate was the Watauga County Republican Women's Club, which donated $150 to Mark Templeton's Boone Town Council campaign, according to Templeton's pre-election disclosure report for the period ending Oct. 21. The club is classified as a "subordinate political party committee" by the SBOE, with the same reporting requirements as party committees.

Because of the contribution, the club should have filed the pre-election disclosure report with the local board by Oct. 28, but elections staff said they had not received one from the club.

If the club had filed a Certification of Threshold document indicating it would not raise or spend more than $1,000 this election cycle, it would have been exempt from the reporting requirements. Anita Laymon, treasurer for the club, said Thursday that the club did file a threshold form, but Steffens said the SBOE had not received the form from the club.

"We are filing a pre-election report as soon as I can get someone to mail it for me," Laymon said Thursday.

Local candidates' disclosure reports have not indicated contributions from any other political parties in this election.

Political action committees making direct contributions to municipal candidates must also file disclosure reports with local boards of elections, SBOE staff indicated. Ball's campaign received a $250 contribution from Chapel Hill-based PAC Upward South, according to his campaign's pre-election report, but the PAC did not file a disclosure report with the Watauga County Board of Elections by Oct. 28, deputy elections director Donna Houck said.

"We did make a contribution to the campaign of Andy Ball, however we are also active in several other races this cycle, so we're registered with the state, rather than the local Board of Elections," said Evan Degnan of Upward South. Degnan did not immediately respond as of presstime to a followup question referencing the 2008 law change (General Statutes 163-278.40J).

Watauga County-based Citizens for Change PAC, had not contributed money to any Watauga County candidates' campaigns as of Oct. 21, according to the candidates' pre-election disclosure reports. Citizens for Change will be required to file a year-end disclosure report with the SBOE, which is due in January.

A Beech Mountain PAC also formed this year but not make direct contributions to candidates, according to reports filed with Watauga County Board of Elections.

Candidates running for offices in Boone and Blowing Rock have raised in excess of $41,000 as of Oct. 21, according to the reports.

(That figure does not include amounts raised by Boone mayoral candidates Brad Harmon and Jenny Church, Blowing Rock mayoral candidate J.B. Lawrence or Blowing Rock Town Council candidates David Barker, Tommy Klutz, Doug Matheson and Ray Pickett. Each of those candidates pledged to spend $1,000 or less on their campaigns and thus are not required to file regular finance reports.)

Candidates' total expenditures amounted to about $23,500 as of the Oct. 21 cutoff date for the reporting period, leaving approximately $17,000 left to be spent.

Board of Elections staff had not yet audited the reports to check for errors as of Tuesday, when Watauga Democrat inspected the reports.