It’s time to give campaign finance some real teeth.       
Through Title 18 of campaign finance law, current punitive measures include up to a $500 fine, and up to 30 days in the parish jail.
Focus on the fine, because the jail time is hardly ever utilized, and the situation surrounding campaign finance becomes clear – most candidates don’t have to take it seriously, because that fine is just half of an individual contribution.
With just three reporting periods, and a handful of 48-hour reporting policies before election, that’s just a few thousand dollars in fines if a candidate chooses not to report something pre-election, or “makes a mistake” and decides to just leave it on the report and eat the fine.
There are circumstances in which corrections have to be made because campaign finance’s rules aren’t clear. For instance, there are issues with the “carry forward” between reports, in which several candidates (especially new ones) have interpreted the reporting period as that date range’s collection and expenditures – not all finances, through that date.
Still, mistakes and misinterpretations aside, campaign finance has become a subject of extreme scrutiny and rightfully so – the United States is based on a pseudo-capitalism model, and money talks.
But the fines are too low, and the enforcement of such things is too slow.
A flat $500 fee just doesn’t make sense in a world where tens, and even hundreds, of thousands of dollars are raised for even local races. Candidates for state representative seats, and even some for Parish Council, have hit the five- and six-digit mark for cash raised.
What’s a $500 fine down the road, after $50,000 is raised (and $500 kept to handle the fine), if the election is won? Disqualification only occurs if a crime occurs for a bad report – an example would be embezzlement.
In a world where cash speaks, because many voters are influenced by advertising and social media and don’t participate in due diligence and research, perhaps fines should be based on monies raised – the “up to” clause applying to those who’ve raised $10,000 or less, and then a sliding scale or percentage as collections rise.
The second issue is enforcement, most notably the timetable. Take, for instance, the current issue on the table with Jeff and Delia Taylor. A resolution to the issue of Taylor Media Services compliance with the current law, which requires a corporation in good standing with the Secretary of State’s Office to meet certain criteria to do business with her husband, would be desirable by both candidates vying for the assessor’s seat – and quickly.
Taylor is a sole proprietor, which does not pass through the Secretary of State’s Office.
Instead, the issue will have to wait until November, at minimum, for a start. The Ethics Board meets just once a month, and a matter has to be introduced first before proceedings can take place. That start? Whether or not they should run an investigation, or not – the results of which won’t come until 2020.
That’s unacceptable, and an audit should be conducted of the Ethics Board to see how to expedite the process – more money is probably involved.
If campaign finance rules and regulations are to be taken seriously by all candidates, the punishments must contain some bite in them. For many candidates, especially regional and statewide, it’s more of a nuisance than anything.
That needs to come to an end.
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.

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