Eight candidates for state elected offices will be assessed fines from $50 up to $10,000 Tuesday for failing to report their political conflicts of interest on time.
Many of the reported late filers are little-known candidates running for slots in the state Senate or the House of Representatives, although two are independents running for governor and one is in a tight race fighting over an important swing district.
Among the late filers is Keith Clotfelter, a Democrat looking to snag a vulnerable Republican-held seat in the House of Representatives, District 36. GOP Incumbent Chad Faulkner lost in the Aug. 5 primary.
“I think the people have a lot more issues to worry about than that right there,” said Clotfelter, a contractor who has been involved with manufactured housing sales. He owes the state $75 for submitting his conflict of interest statement to the state Election Commission three days late.
He said a worker on his staff mistakenly filed the information after the state’s deadline, but said the campaign would pay the fine soon.
His race will likely be targeted by Democrats and Republicans alike as both parties try to gain seats in the House. Republicans now have a 50-48 advantage in the chamber, with a lone Independent.
Clotfelter said he doesn’t expect his Republican counterpart, Dennis Powers, to make much of an issue out of late paperwork, adding that voters probably don’t care.
“It’s not as big a concern to them,” he said. “It’s a mistake we made and it’s something we’ll rectify.”
Other candidates could face much harsher fines, according to the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Executive Director Drew Rawlins.
“It’s up to the commission to determine the amount of the actually civil penalty,” said Rawlins.
Individuals are fined $25 for each day the conflict of interest statement is late, he added, however the board may reduce the fines as they see fit.
Candidates who fail to file that information with the state after 30 days can be assessed up to a $10,000 penalty, he said. However, the board has full discretion to set the fine at a lower amount or dismiss the charges.
Although the Ethics Commission reviews compliance for all political candidates regardless of party, the six-member body does not include Independents.
The commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. The governor, House speaker and lieutenant governor each appoint a member from each party to serve a four-year term which includes hearing and determining ethics violations and fines.
Jay Kalbes, an Independent running for the solid Republican 45th district owes Tennessee as much as $10,000 for submitting his paperwork 56 days late. He is running against Rep. Debra Maggart and Democrat Charles Ihrig in the November election. All three candidates are from Hendersonville.
Priscilla G. Steele and Mitzi Turnage both lost their primary elections. Steele, who wanted to run as a Republican against now-Independent House Speaker Kent Williams in upper East Tennessee, owes up to $10,000 for revealing her conflicts of interest 32 days late.
Turnage lost to Democratic Rep. Joe Towns of Memphis in the primary election but now could owe up to $10,000 for turning in her documents 58 days late.
Other political candidates facing possible fines from the state election commission include Thomas Ken Owens, a Democrat who faces off against sitting Republican state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City. He owes the state $50 for submitting his paperwork two days late.
Independent gubernatorial candidates Boyce McCall, Sr., and Howard Switzer both owe the state $50 for filing their conflict of interest paperwork day days late.
The state Attorney General’s office would collect on any outstanding or unpaid penalties.
The board will meet for the third time this year on Tuesday and decide whether to reduce fines for any of the candidates. The six-member body will also assess similar penalties for 51 local candidates, five office holders, one lobbyist and seven employers of lobbyists.