Cumberland Times-News

Local News

July 16, 2014

Consistency sought for campaign contribution reporting

City Council candidate says guidelines are ambiguous

— CUMBERLAND — City Council candidate Mark Fisher asked the mayor and City Council on Tuesday to consider reviewing the rules surrounding campaign contribution and expense reporting to clarify issues in the guidelines that he feels are ambiguous.

Fisher spoke during the public input portion of the regular bimonthly meeting of the City Council.

“I’m not alleging any wrongdoing. But there needs to be consistency,” said Fisher.

Fisher is running for one of the two seats up for grabs in the Nov. 4 general election. Councilmen Nick Scarpelli is stepping down to run for delegate representing District 1-C in the Maryland General Assembly and the council seat held by incumbent David Kauffman is up for re-election.

In an interview with the Times-News, Fisher detailed his issues with the campaign reporting process.

Fisher said the guidelines set forth under section 11A of the city charter concerning campaign contribution and expense reporting is sometimes vague and needs clarification. Candidates must file a Report of Campaign Contributions and Expenses no later than seven days after a primary and seven days after any general election.

His primary concerns revolve around the use of employees of a candidate-owned business performing campaign duties. Even if the employee is not paid directly by the campaign, Fisher believes that these in-kind services should be reported.

“This is what the city charter would indicate,” said Fisher.

If the business already contributed cash up to the cap provided for in the city charter, a failure to record in-kind contributions could cause donations that exceeded the cap to go unreported. This scenario would apply when an employee of a candidate’s business may be performing campaign services while receiving compensation from the business.

“Anytime someone is performing an activity in furtherance of the campaign it should be recorded,” said Fisher.

Campaign reports that are late are subject to monetary fines and those who fail to file the report within 30 days can be deemed ineligible to hold office for five years, according to the city charter.

The campaign expense reports filed after the primary election for each of the candidates were obtained by the Times-News from the city under the Public Information Act.

City Council candidates:

• Seth Bernard: Contributions $3,855, expenses $3,403.57.

• Mark Fisher: Contributions $300, expenses $138.04.

• Dustin Freas: Contributions $12,584.90, expenses $11,608.42.

• Dave Kauffman: Contributions $0, expenses $0.

• Slyvester Young: no report provided.

Mayorial candidates:

• Brian Grim: Contributions $4,085.50, expenses $1,944.58.

• Jeff Grogg: Contributions $0, expenses $0.

• Mary Miltenberger: Contributions $1,270, expenses $1,406.62.

“They need to establish clear procedures on reviewing these reports so that they actually mean something,” said Fisher.

Other areas of the city charter’s guidelines for the reporting that concern Fisher are the recording of the sponsoring of events by candidates, self funding limits, and a consistant format for the identification of donors listed on the report.

“We are getting various ways of identifying donors. Some don’t like to be identified. If we don’t need to, fine. We need to have it clarified,” said Fisher.

Mayor Brian Grim agreed with Fisher’s concerns.

“We need to take a look at it. But it would be difficult to do in mid-cycle and make any changes. I ask that Mike (Michael Cohen, city attorney) take a look at it,” said Grim.

Fisher said the city’s Administrative Appeals Board should also review the reports process.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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