In the state of Indiana, a candidate who files their campaign finance paperwork three weeks late could owe a fine of up to $1,000.
But it’s almost never the case that late filers in Monroe County have to pay a fine at all.
That’s because Indiana’s state election law allows a county election board to waive or reduce the fine that a candidate has to pay.
And that’s the approach that Monroe County’s election board has taken in the past. The board has imposed a fine only on the third offense, and even then, not the full amount.
For this year’s Nov. 8 election the deadline to file the CFA-4 was by noon on Oct. 21.
Eleven candidates in Monroe County missed the deadline—and of those, five still have not submitted the form, according to Monroe County election officials.
Even if the late filings this time around will be handled with the same “generous” approach as before, that could change for 2023, when the municipal elections are scheduled.
The topic got some discussion at the Monroe County election board’s regular meeting on Thursday.
As election board member Donovan Garletts put it: “Perhaps for January’s meeting, we need to talk about our generosity and reevaluate that.”
The Monroe County election board’s current approach was summarized for the board by county election supervisor Karen Wheeler: there’s no penalty for the first offense; the second offense is a warning with no fine; the third offense is 25 percent of the maximum fine per day the filing is late. The daily fine is $50 for a total maximum of $1,000.
For this election cycle, five candidates were late with their filings, Wheeler reported to the board at Thursday’s meeting—but they have at least turned in the forms. Another six candidates still have not filed the form that was due on Oct. 21.
Adding up the $50 a day that is allowed under state law, those six candidates could each owe the statutory maximum of $1,000, if it weren’t for the election board’s policy.
Garletts drew on his background as an educator to describe how he views the board’s policy: “I didn’t have to give kindergarteners three warnings when I was a principal.” Garletts continued, “The complete lack of accountability, on just a form, seems quite wild to me.”
Garletts added, “I think we should at least put that on an agenda early in the year to discuss how we’re going to deal with this in the future. But that’s just me.”
Putting it on the election board’s agenda sometime next year will be something that Garletts can do himself, because he’ll be chair of the election board next year. That’s because the board follows a custom of alternating the chairship between the Democratic Party’s appointee and the Republican Party’s appointee to the three-member board.
Garletts is the Republican appointee. The board is now chaired by Democrat Shruti Rana. It was a year ago, in December 2021, when Garletts was appointed to fill the Republican slot, after Hal Turner resigned. The third member of the election board is the county clerk, who is Nicole Browne.
Election supervisor Karen Wheeler shared her frustration about tracking down the late filings. About the campaign finance filings for the primary, Wheeler said, “It just felt like kind of a circus of me going back and forth with these people.”
Wheeler puts a lot of time into it, she said, sending candidates reminders, before the deadlines, in an attempt to improve compliance—even though that’s not a legal requirement. Wheeler summed up the way it would work, if the board imposed the penalties that it could impose: “You got caught speeding, you pay the penalty.”
Clerk Nicole Browne posed a rhetorical question: If a candidate can’t report their campaign finance information on time, how could they be trusted to do the job they are elected to do? About the 11 candidates who did not file on time this election cycle, Browne said “It appears those candidates do not take the deadline seriously.”
About the campaign finance form filing deadlines, board member Shruti Rana added, “It’s not just a requirement—it fulfills important legal accountability and transparency functions that are important for the public.”
On Thursday, the board did not have on its meeting agenda any topics related to the pending recounts of the District 62 state house race, the Benton Township board race, or the 6,660 ballots that were missed in the initial count on election night for Monroe County.