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Ethics Commission Sticks Minor Candidates with $750 fines

Two were hit for $750 for filing their official disclosure of interests statements to the state almost two months late — an infraction that could have generated a $10,000 penalty. They can challenge by requesting the commission reconsider, or by appealing the decision.

Two long-shot candidates for state political office are looking at $750 fines each for failing to disclose their purported ethical conflicts on time.

The Tennessee Ethics Commission decided this week to slap penalties on Democrat Mitzi Turnage and Jay Kalbes, an indpendent, and for filing their official disclosure of interests statements to the state almost two months late, an infraction that carries up to a $10,000 penalty.

Kalbes is looking to beat out GOP incumbent Rep. Debra Maggart and her Democrat ic challenger, Charles Ihrig, for the comfortably Republican 45th District seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. All three candidates reside in Hendersonville.

Turnage, a member of the Shelby County Democratic Party’s executive committee, ran against Rep. Joe Towns in the 84th House District party primary. Even though she lost, Turnage is required to pay the penalty for filing her interests statement 58 days late.

The $750 assessed fines are the lowest the bipartisan commission can assign for filings more than 30 days past due, according to John Allyn, the commission’s legal counsel.

However, the six-member body can dismiss the fines entirely if it sees fit, he said.

Eight candidates for state political office fell under the commission’s review for submitting late disclosures, and almost all of the filings revealed only one or two sources of income.

Kalbes requested in writing the that the commission reconsider his fine because election officials accepting his candidacy paperwork told him they had all the documents they needed.

“I did ask when I turned in my petition to run as an Independent if there was anything else I needed to do and I was told that was everything,” read his hand-written letter, dated July 27.

Kalbes said he would challenge the fine with the Elections Commission, but thinks that sort of paperwork should be included in every election packet given to potential candidates.

“If it’s required to run, put it in together so somebody like myself who is not a career politician and is just running to help the state can get it done in a timely manner,” he told TNReport.

According to the commission, she did not write a letter explaining why the filing was late or request the state dismiss her fine.

Attempts to reach Turnage for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

Officials did dismiss the $750 fine for Priscilla G. Steele, a Republican from Roan Mountain, who filed the document 32 days after the deadline.

She lost her primary election bid last month against Jerome Cochran, an Elizabethton attorney who now faces off against Independent House Speaker Kent Williams.

She said she remembers emailing her statement to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance before it was due, she wrote in a letter to the commission, but added that she was dealing with a series of family emergencies at the time.

Either way, she said, she hadn’t raised any money to support her election.

“I have not asked nor received any money, donations from any person or organization for this campaign,” read the letter. “During the campaign, I have spent only the money from my social security check I receive each month.”

The commission dismissed the entire fine.

The members also dismissed a $75 fine for Republican Steve Hall, who filed his form three days late. The 18th District primary election winner running for GOP Rep. Stacey Campfield’s vacant seat against Democrat Sam Alexander penned a letter saying he thought he had filed the paperwork online back in January and didn’t know that the information had not gone through.

The commission held fines steady for four other candidates, including Keith Clotfelter, a Democrat competing in a swing district that could prove to be a deciding district determining which party will control the chamber. He was fined $75 for releasing his potential conflicts of interest three days late.

His disclosures revealed indicated several sources of income between him and his spouse, including Stonehedge Properties, , GG&K Land Partners, along with investments and loans at several banks.

Thomas Ken Owens, a Democrat who will face state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City in the Nov. 2 election, was assessed a $50 fine for filing his form two days late.

Independent candidates for governor, Boyce McCall, Sr., and Howard Switzer were also fined $50 each for failing to file the conflicts until two days after the deadline.

Candidates can challenge the Ethics Commission by requesting the body reconsider its actions or by appealing its decision, said Allyn.

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