Rep. Al Green raised more than $1.7 million to fund three election bids from 2004 to 2008, but his campaign neglected to report more than a year and a half's worth of its transactions to the Federal Election Commission.
The nine missing campaign finance reports — detailing who gave the Texas Democrat a quarter of his money during these years — were filed only after the FEC sent letters threatening to audit and fine the campaign.
While Green has failed to file campaign disclosure reports more times than any current lawmaker, he is not the only offender. At least 680 campaigns have failed to file more than 900 required filings total since 2000, according to a Roll Call study of campaign finance records. As a result, the FEC has fined these campaigns more than $2 million during the past decade.
“I’m not proud of this,” Green said in response to the study. “I regret that it has happened. I apologize for it and I will continue to do better going forward.”
Green paid more than $40,000 in fines to the FEC, and most of his campaign’s filing irregularities ended after 2008, when, he said, he “hired an independent professional” to help him with his campaign finance reporting.
Campaign watchdogs have little sympathy for candidates who neglect to file their reports on time. “There’s no excuse for it,” said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center who works on election law issues.
“Refusing to file a report is blatant noncompliance, and it should be punished. How can the public trust these individuals to make huge budgetary decisions affecting public policy if they can’t manage to file a fairly simple campaign finance disclosure report?”
No party can claim superiority when it comes to filing FEC reports. Democratic candidates have missed 447 filings since 2000, resulting in more than $958,000 in fines, while Republican candidates failed to file 449 reports and were penalized just more than $1 million. Third-party candidates missed another 37 filings, resulting in more than $53,000 in penalties.
The fines imposed by the FEC are often based on a percentage of a candidate’s receipts and sometimes can be mitigated by circumstances. This explains why Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) was penalized only $900 for skipping five reports, while Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) received $14,000 in fines for missing the same number of reports from 2000 to 2004.
“The late filings were the result of a software failure,” said Ashley Nagaoka, spokeswoman for Hanabusa. “The FEC acknowledged the error and the campaign’s accountant paid the fine.”
A Conyers spokeswoman said in an e-mail: “When he first became aware that these reports had not been filed he directed the campaign to make changes. They filed the missing paperwork immediately and in June 2007 the FEC authorized the termination of Friends of John Conyers.” Conyers created a new campaign committee with a new treasurer and has not failed to file since, she said.