Politicos who miss campaign finance deadlines often make headlines. How politicos handle their own campaign finances is seen as a relevant gauge to determine how honest and responsible they’ll be if put in charge of taxpayer money and resources. In Vermont, the state’s Democratic Party Chair generated significant media interest after several GOP candidates there missed campaign finance deadlines. In New York, a Democrat hoping to take on a long-time Republican state lawmaker missed a July 2012 campaign finance deadline and was slammed in the local media by the GOP for not being able to mount “a credible campaign.”
In the heated 2010 Michigan State Senate race between Democrats Pam Byrnes and Rebekah Warren, Warren missed a campaign finance filing date, and Byrnes’s campaign made hay by using the mistake to bring up a host of issues, including the suggestion that Warren was using her PAC to circumvent campaign finance laws:
“Sadly, Ms. Warren has a history of this as the treasurer of MARAL,” said Byrnes’ campaign manager, Kent Sparks, citing records that show Warren was late in submitting other campaign finance reports in 2006 and 2007 as treasurer for the Michigan Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League PAC.
The latest campaign finance reports show Warren, D-Ann Arbor, has raised $140,968, compared to the $199,558 raised by Byrnes, D-Lyndon Township. The reports also show Byrnes had outspent Warren $119,536 to $74,688 as of July 18, the reporting period ending date.
Byrnes’ campaign also claims Warren worked around campaign finance laws to channel an extra $5,000 above and beyond the amount permitted by state law from her Envision Michigan PAC to her Senate campaign.
Records show Warren gave her campaign a boost in December by transferring $10,000 from her Envision Michigan PAC, the most allowed under state law. Five days later, the PAC made a $5,000 contribution to state Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville, who gave $5,000 to Warren’s campaign the same day.
Lawrence Kestenbaum (pictured, right) is the Washtenaw County Clerk. He makes sure candidates complete campaign finance documents correctly and on time. Mistakes can be costly. Ann Arbor Ward 1 City Council candidate Eric Sturgis missed the recent September 6, 2012 post-election campaign finance deadline. This revelation may come as no surprise to 55th District Michigan House candidate Adam Zemke. In 2010 when Zemke ran for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, Sturgis was his campaign treasurer. With Sturgis at the helm of Zemke’s campaign finances, the campaign hit a host of campaign finance icebergs. County Clerk Kestenbaum nabbed Zemke’s campaign for incorrectly filling out the primary pre-election disclosure form, and for turning it in late. Zemke also got a love letter from Larry Kestenbaum for failing to file an Annual Statement. The multiple campaign finance violations in his 2010 campaign cost Zemke $2,495—fines he didn’t pay in full until six months after he set up his Adam Zemke for State Representative campaign committee.
Like Zemke, Ann Arbor Ward 2 Council candidate Sally Hart Petersen got slapped with fines from Kestenbaum for campaign finance violations, and her failure to file required disclosure forms. On September 6, 2012 Petersen’s campaign was sent a letter assessing her campaign a $2,050 fine for failing to disclose late contributions. The day after Petersen submitted her pre-election campaign finance forms for the primary election, Kestenbaum’s office notified her that her campaign had accepted donations above the legal limit from individuals.
If Zemke and Petersen were newbies when they made their campaign finance violations, experienced politicos have also gotten netted by Kestenbaum’s office, as well. In 2009, the Washtenaw County Clerk caught Ann Arbor 1st Ward Council member Sabra Briere accepting an illegal $1,000 contribution from local developer Dennis Dahlmann. She was forced to return $500 of the $1,000 donation to the donor and to amend her campaign finance statement for the reporting period. Ann Arbor Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman, who was initially elected to Council in 2006, has been cited by Kestenbaum’s office on a regular basis for missing campaign finance deadlines, and for failing to submit campaign finance disclosure forms. In total, since 2009 Kunselman has been fined (and paid) $1,625 in late filing fees. To put the amount of the fines in perspective, in 2009 Kunselman spent less than $3,000 on his campaign. Ann Arbor Ward 5 Council member Mike Anglin, conversely, first elected in 2007, has never turned in a campaign finance disclosure or statement late, or been fined for any campaign finance violations.
Campaign finance deadlines are absolute. The County Clerk can’t extend deadlines for the political pals to whose campaigns he donates, or overlook illegal contributions without risking prosecution and, quite possibly, jail time. Similarly, Larry Kestenbaum is subject to the same reporting deadlines and donation limits he is expected to enforce. Kestenbaum missed the September 6, 2012 deadline for filing his post-primary election campaign finance disclosure forms. In 2011, Kestenbaum (like Adam Zemke) was late filing his Annual Statement, and paid a modest $25 fine. He will owe a fine for failing to file his post-primary election campaign finance forms, and that fine grows by $25 for each business day the forms remain unfiled by the Washtenaw County Clerk with his own office.
When Kestenbaum ran for County Clerk in 2004, he spent $24,629 on his campaign and ended up with $13,561.14 of campaign-related debt. He self-financed his own campaign for County Clerk to the tune of $13,122.14. As of his latest Annual Statement, Kestenbaum’s campaign was still $9,822.14 in debt.
Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett was first elected in 2001. When she ran in 2008, she raised $44,100 and her campaign currently owes no debt. According to campaign finance documents available online, she has never filed any of her required campaign finance documents late, or been assessed by her own office for any fines for violations of Michigan’s campaign finance laws.
In Oakland County, the Clerk’s Office provides a handy list of all ballot question and campaign committees owing fines. There are currently 98 such entities that owe Oakland County in excess of $150,000 total. Oakland County Clerk Bill Bullard, Jr. is new to the job, but he did remember to file his most recently required Annual Statement, an 84-page financial disclosure that shows his campaign committee took in $73,383.69 in contributions during the reporting period, and, like his Wayne County colleague, has a campaign committee that is debt free. Similarly, in Macomb County the clerk there, elected in 2004, has never missed a campaign finance statement or committee finance statement filing deadline.
In fact, Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum is the only county clerk in Michigan who failed to turn in his most recent Annual Statement on time, and who failed to turn in the required post-primary election campaign finance forms by the September 6, 2012 deadline, according to campaign finance information available online for county clerks whose names appeared on 2012 primary ballots in Michigan counties. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced on July 27, 2012 that a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit is imminent after local city and township clerks in 70 Michigan communities missed state and federal deadlines for providing absentee ballots to military and overseas voters for the August primary election. On this issue, Larry Kestenbaum can breathe easy; Washtenaw County does not appear on the official list of the 70 counties targeted by the DOJ.