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Report: Ohio has $33M in unpaid political fines

By MATT LEINGANG, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, June 29, 2010 (AP): Ohio is too slow to enforce fines against political candidates and their campaigns for violating election laws, leaving $33.2 million in unpaid penalties, the state's top lawyer said Tuesday.

The problem of unpaid fines imposed by the state Elections Commission may cause the public to lose confidence in the system, Attorney General Richard Cordray said after his office released a report on the issue.

The commission is in charge of fining candidates and organizations if they fail to file paperwork, such as campaign finance reports.

``The large amounts owed ... bring the entire enforcement scheme into disrepute and feed public cynicism that nobody in government cares about holding lawbreakers accountable,'' said Cordray, who expressed doubt about the state's ability to collect so much old money from defunct or penniless campaign committees.

Philip Richter, executive director of the Elections Commission, said he agrees there needs to be improvement and would review Cordray's findings. The commission does its best with a two-member staff and limited resources, he said.

Cordray said the commission sometimes takes years to assess finesin one case nearly a decade passed between the date of the violation and the date of the fine.

Also, the commission takes an average of three years to certify unpaid debt with the attorney general's office, which is in charge of collecting it, he said. Such debt is supposed to be certified within 45 days.

Cordray said fines must be imposed promptly. He also recommended that the commission consider using other sanctions available under the law, including disqualifying a candidate from holding office if he or she has repeatedly neglected to file campaign finance reports.


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