Posted: March 18, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A bunch of politicians could be days away from criminal charges.

What dastardly deed did they do? Take bribes? Rub out an opponent? Dip into the public till?

Not quite. They have not filed their campaign finance reports.

Delaware has a new law cracking down on procrastinating politicians. They are to be fined $50 a day for not turning in their reports, and their names go to the attorney general after 30 days.

Failure to file is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,300 fine. No fooling.

The new law was enacted in a burst of bipartisanship in 2012. The state House of Representatives voted for it by 30-4 with seven members absent, the state Senate followed with a vote of 18-3, and Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, signed it into law.

The day of reckoning is here. The campaign finance reports for 2013 were technically due in the election commissioner's office on Jan. 20, but the office just installed a new e-filing system not everyone could figure out, so the deadline was extended for a month until Feb. 20. Campaign organizations were notified if they missed the cutoff date.

"So now we're almost 30 days beyond that, and we're getting ready to send a list of non-filers to the Attorney General's Office," said Elaine Manlove, the election commissioner.

Prosecutors are not exactly standing by. "We'll look at it," said Kathy Jennings, the state prosecutor.

Maybe the offenders could be handled like "Eagles Court," the old assembly-line justice system set up for swift sentencing of unruly fans when Philadelphia played football at the old Veterans Stadium.

Maybe they could be brought up before the Red Queen, who could order, "Off with their heads!"

Meanwhile, the fines are piling up. By Tuesday, a late report was getting dinged for $900. No fooling.

As of last week, the office was working off a list of about 80 campaigns that had not filed, but some have come in since, and Manlove is also waiving the fines for anyone struggling with how to file but working on it with her office.

It also appears the e-filing system is not necessarily registering all the reports -- like Charlie Copeland's, for instance.

Copeland, the Republican state chair, had two reports to file. One was for "Citizens for Copeland," left over from his candidacy for lieutenant governor in 2008, and the other was for LEAD PAC, a political action committee.

He filed for "Citizens for Copeland" and has a printout to prove it, although it is not showing up in the e-filing system, and he tried to file for LEAD PAC, but the system told him it did not exist.

"Whose problem is that?" Copeland asked.

Whatever the glitches in the system, the crime seems to carry extreme punishment.

"Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Being 30 days late reporting, I don't think it's really a crime," said Colin Bonini, a Republican state senator whose reports are safely in.

Bonini was one of the handful of legislators who voted against the new law, and at the time, he was not even focusing on the criminal part, but just on the fines.

"I thought it was too expensive. I thought it was going to lead to excessive fines," Bonini said.

No fooling.