Campaign Finance Law

The new campaign season is upon us already.  Nominating petitions are being distributed, signatures acquired and petition parties in abundance.  Many people running for office are doing so for the first time and may not be aware of campaign reporting law.  The Commonwealth has a phamphlet available outlining the law and it is available here as a downloadable pdf file.  Get familiar with these laws because they can cause you significant legal expenses should you be caught in violation.  All campaign finance reports are public documents and anyone may examine them either at the state website or at their county office of election services.

I am reminded of this because a friend has been perusing the reports filed by a Lehigh County school board member and brought them to my attention.  They are filled with errors and violations but I will allow him to reveal the specifics.  Needless to say I am shocked by the young man who filed these because he seems to feel he is allowed to use his campaign contributions for personal expenses and in any way he sees fit.  That is illegal.  There are definitive restrictions on the use of campaign contributions.

I also bring this up because a State Senate candidate last year, Steve Fuhs (Berks-11) violated campaign finance law more than any candidate I have ever seen.  He accepted $30,000 in contributions from a political action committee that didn’t register with the Commonwealth until January 2009 for an election in 2008.  To this day I cannot access any information online about Berks Business Executives for Accountabilty #6 Govt, the name of the PAC.  They raised $30,000 for Mr. Fuhs, a former Secret Service agent who should know better, and no one yet knows from whom those funds came.

This is a gross violation of campaign finance law and, as yet, Pedro Cortes’ office has yet to do anything about the legal violations.  Tom Corbett where are you?  Oh yes, Fuhs is a Republican so our Attorney General will, again, ignore the legal transgressions of a fellow Republican.  Pennsylvania law requires a political committee to file with the Secretary of State within 20 days of receiving at least $250 in contributions.  Failure to do so means the candidate cannot accept any monies from the entity.  Steve Fuhs must be required to return $30,000 to this PAC.

The purpose of campaign finance reporting is to reveal to voters who is supporting a candidate financially.  Fuhs failed to file his second Friday before the election report until after the election.  Voters remain uninformed online as to whom donated the $30,000 used for his failed Senate candidacy.  This is an outrage.

Another issue is campaign termination reports.  The law requires there be no funds or debts remaining in an account when it is terminated.  Julian Stolz, the East Penn School Board member attempted to close his campaign account with $1700 remaining.  He used $100 of that to illegally (you cannot use funds in a state account to donate to a federal candidate) contribute to Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign.  This was a violation of federal campaign finance law.  I doubt Stolz’ committee was filed with the FEC as would have been required.  Still, there are laws about mixing state and federal campaign accounts.  He then withdrew the remaining $1600 for his own use and closed the account though he remains a sitting member of the school board.  He has also failed to file reports that were legally notarized and signed.

Campaign finance funds can only be used to influence the outcome of an election.  You cannot use them for automobile repairs, for example, clothing or any other personal use.  You also must keep records of any expenditure over $25.  Mr. Stolz claims he has no such records.  The law also requires any candidate to file an affadavit stating he will not raise or expend more than $250 in a reporting period without an established campaign committee.  It also requires the keeping of records.

It behooves every candidate for office to familiarize themselves with the law and seek counsel concerning any aspects of which they may not fully understand.  Taking remaining campaign funds for anything you wish to use them for is a gross violation of the law and may be prosecuted.  My advice to my friend Mr. Stolz is that he consult an election law attorney before making any further statements regarding his campaign finance reports.

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