Michigan County Clerk’s Campaign Finance Flubs Explained—Kinda
by P.D. Lesko
Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum is a Democrat. He sat on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners from 1983–1988, and was a Washtenaw County Commissioner from 2000–02. In 2004, he was elected as the Washtenaw County Clerk/Register of Deeds, the first Democrat in that position in 72 years.
On September 11, 2012 A2Politico revealed that Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum (right) had neglected to submit his most recent Annual Campaign statement on time and was assessed a modest fine. That piece also revealed that Kestenbaum had missed the September 6, 2012 primary post-election campaign finance filing deadline. However, after the A2P post went live, a batch of pages were posted to the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Campaign Finance page, and the pages titled “Post-Election Campaign Statement for: Primary.” After the September 11, 2012 A2Politico piece was posted, Kestenbaum emailed an explanation on September 14th in response to questions about why he’d submitted the wrong forms, and why those forms had ended up being linked to the County’s official campaign finance web site:
My treasurer sends me a PDF of my campaign finance forms through email. Obviously I printed and submitted the wrong one (on September 11) for the September 6 reporting date. I have now printed and submitted the correct form.
I think this means I will be paying an additional late fee, that is, $150 for six days instead of $75 for three days. My staff puts CFR forms on the web site.
I had the completed form for September 6 (in email) ahead of time, as my treasurer was going out of town. It is entirely my fault that I submitted them late.
In my own defense, I should say that we had a sewer problem at my house, which took a whole lot of my time and attention. Our front yard was dug up (twelve feet deep, which turned out to be deeper than the equipment originally brought could go) and the sewer replaced.
That doesn’t excuse my tardiness, but perhaps explains it a bit.
The signed cover sheet was stamped as received by the Clerk’s office on September 11, 2012 and was dated July 27, 2012 and signed by Kestenbaum and his campaign Treasurer Denise W. Baker. It was, in fact, a copy of the same pre-election campaign finance disclosure page submitted on July 27, 2012 at 4:47 p.m. Closer inspection of the documents submitted by the Washtenaw County Clerk as his missing post-election primary campaign finance forms on September 11th shows that the box “Pre-Election” is checked, as it is on the July 27th documents.
Except for the missing pages of the September 11th document (only every other page was scanned in, according to Kestenbaum in an explanation), Larry Kestenbaum’s pre- and post-election campaign finance disclosure forms were identical, with the set filed on July 27, 2012 identified as the campaign finance forms due on September 6, 2012 and turned in by Kestenbaum on September 11, 2012.
A2Politico reported that Kestenbaum was the only county clerk in the state of Michigan to miss the September 2012 campaign finance disclosure deadline, and in fact is the only county clerk in the state who has failed to file campaign finance forms.
After Kestenbaum’s missing campaign finance forms went live, A2Politico got a tip from a reader to check out the finance forms submitted by the County Clerk and stamped by the County Clerk’s office as officially submitted on September 11, 2012 at 12:45 p.m. The A2Politico piece was posted at 2:33 p.m. on September 11, 2012, and while Kestenbaum’s pre-election campaign finance disclosures were posted on the City Clerk’s web site, his post-election campaign finance forms did not appear on the site at the time the A2Politico piece went live.
According to an official in the Elections Division in Kestenbaum’s office, Kestenbaum submitted his forms on September 11, 2012 to an office employee who marked the documents as officially filed in Washtenaw County, and who then scanned the documents to create PDF files. The employee did not examine the campaign finance forms for accuracy, or make the link to the PDF documents live. According to the same official, once forms are scanned in, the paper copies are placed in a folder for Mr. Ed Golembiewski—the head of the elections division—to “go over with a fine tooth comb.” Only Golembiewski, according to County Clerk’s office elections officials, is charged with examining campaign finance forms for accuracy. Only once forms have been examined for accuracy does Golembiewski make the link to the scanned documents live.
While it’s clear County Clerk Kestenbaum didn’t actually look at the campaign finance forms he submitted to his own office on September 11, 2012, the question remains why the mistake wasn’t discovered before the wrong forms were made live online. Was Golembiewski to blame? Kestembaum explained via email: “As to Ed’s ‘fine-tooth comb’, this round of filings occurred while he was in the middle of preparing the ballot for the November election – a huge project. Now that the ballot has been finalized (9/13), I expect he will be catching up on other work.”
When asked if County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum could have activated the link to the inaccurate campaign finance forms, the Clerk’s Office employee paused and said, “Yes.” The employee quickly added that Kestenbaum “always goes on the other side of the desk when he turns in his forms. He’s a candidate.”
Joel Hondorp, CMC, is the Byron Township Clerk and a former president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. When asked if it would be common for a clerk who oversees elections to miss deadlines for turning in her/his own campaign finance forms, Hondorp replied that in his experience it would be an “unprecedented” mistake. When asked whether a clerk should be expected to submit the correct campaign finance forms, Hondorp repled, “Yes, of course.”
Missing his own campaign finance deadlines multiple times isn’t the only reason Kestenbaum has been criticized by local Dems, many of whom distrust the County Clerk because of close ties to the local Hive Mind Collective. To make matters worse for himself, Kestenbaum has openly taken sides in campaigns, such as against Ward 5 Council member Mike Anglin in 2011, that include Dem. incumbents. Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum’s office has been criticized for being slow to improve the County’s campaign finance databases, and for allowing the sale of voter data by one of his staff members. In 2004, the year Kestenbaum was elected, West Liberty Information was formed as an LLC with James Dries as President. Dries was hired by Kestenbaum as the Chief Deputy Clerk and Register of Deeds in January, 2005, one year after Dries formed his corporation. West Liberty Information, LLC is described by Dries on his LinkedIn page thusly: “I compile and market a mailing list based on registered voters residing in Washtenaw County, Michigan. The list is updated quarterly and voting data is added as soon as it becomes available. Customers include the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Washtenaw Community College, non-profits, various county-wide and school district millage campaigns and many campaigns for local office.”
Clerks and registrars of voter’s offices around the country will sell voter data for election, governmental, scholarly or political research purposes. However, it’s common to require that individuals or organizations that purchase regulated voter data don’t sell, lease, or loan the data out to others.
While, there is no ownership link between Kestenbaum and West Liberty Information, according to records filed with the State of Michigan, the question remains why Kestenbaum’s Chief Deputy Clerk is selling mailing lists “based on registered voters residing in Washtenaw County” on the side.
Kestenbaum is running for re-election in 2012 and his website has the tagline “Count Every Vote.” Well, kinda. In the 2012 August primary, there were several requests for recounts. It was discovered that in one of the county’s municipalities several of the pouches containing ballots cast had been incorrectly sealed, in another municipality a contested millage vote had to stand because all of the pouches that contained the ballots cast had been sealed incorrectly. In Ann Arbor, in a hotly contested City Council election in which the incumbent won by only 18 votes, one Ward 4 precinct was not able to be recounted because a pouch’s seal had not been properly affixed. Kestenbaum’s office issued no explanation concerning whether sewer work at his house was to blame for those problems, as well.
As for his “corrected” post-election campaign finance forms, they are neither stamped as officially received, nor dated, by the Clerk’s Office.
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