Campaign finance public records show some irregularities with certain organizations donating more than the allowed amount to some candidates, most of which are incumbents.
The 2019 Indiana Campaign Finance Manual stipulates candidates may receive donations from several entities, such as individuals, corporations or other organizations, including partnerships or limited liability companies. For local elections, there is no cap on the amount an individual or an entity, such as an LLC, can donate. However, corporations only may donate $2,000 “apportioned in any manner among all candidates for county, local and school board offices,” according to the manual.
When a candidate receives a donation, they file the donation under a certain form which corresponds with the type of entity that donated. An A-1 form is used for individual donations, an A-2 form is used for corporation donations and an A-5 form is used for other organizations, such as donations from an LLC.
Several of the Fishers City Council incumbents’ campaign finance reports and Mayor Scott Fadness’ campaign finance reports show that a corporation either contributed more than the allowed amount of $2,000 or the corporation was mislabeled on the wrong form.
For example, Braden Business Systems, Inc. donated $5,000 to Rich Block’s campaign, $1,000 to Cecilia Coble’s campaign and $1,000 to Todd Zimmerman’s campaign. All those contributions were filed as contributions by a corporation within each candidates’ finance report on the correct A-2 form, but the total exceeds the allowed amount of donations by $5,000.
However, Braden Business Systems, Inc. also donated $2,500 to Fadness’ campaign, but the donation incorrectly was filed under an A-5 form. Since Braden Business Systems is an incorporated business, the donations exceed the allotted $2,000 by $7,500.
Also, Towne Post Network, Inc., a local media organization, donated $5,500 in in-kind donations to Fadness’, Coble’s and Pete Peterson’s campaigns. Only Coble’s and Peterson’s were correctly filed under the A-2 form, meaning the donation was filed as coming from a corporation, but the total amount still exceeded what corporations are allowed to donate. However, Towne Post Network, Inc.’s donation to Fadness’ campaign was recorded as $2,200 and was filed incorrectly under “other organizations.” This means Towne Post Network, Inc. exceeded its allowed donation amount by $3,500.
A statement from Fadness’ campaign said the campaign had identified some minor issues and already was preparing refunds.
“We’re grateful for the tremendous support we’ve received. We identified two minor issues and have already prepared refunds for the over-contributions and filed an amended report,” stated Jennifer Hallowell, Fadness for Fishers campaign spokeswoman.
Peterson and Block both said they agree with Hallowell’s statement and that they will take the steps necessary to ensure their campaign finance reports are filed correctly as well. They each said the mistakes were not intentional.
Towne Post Network Publisher Tom Britt said he’s unregretful about the donation.
“We donated to three campaigns, Cecilia (Coble), Pete (Peterson) and Scott Fadness. We support them,” Britt said. “We are just being transparent with what we are doing with our advertising; that’s the going rate for an ad. I don’t know what the penalty is for violating it or what the consequences are, but if they (the Hamilton County Election Board) do (look into it),
I look forward to them looking into it, and I hope they waste a ton of their time. We donate to a ton of things. I’m unapologetic. If they want to come after me, come after me. I don’t care.”
Britt said because he was not a politician, he did not read the 2019 Campaign Finance Manual.
Several other candidates’ campaign finance forms show incorrect filings of LLCs and corporations, although the donations were within the allotted amount. For example, Jocelyn Vare, a Democrat running for Fishers City Council, filed Propeller Marketing, LLC’s in-kind marketing donation of $10,950 incorrectly under the A-2 form.
After becoming aware of the incorrect filings from corporations, Britt and other candidates’ campaign staff accused at-large council candidate Gurinder Singh of not properly filing his campaign expenses, specifically in relation to the vehicles Singh uses for his campaign.
However, both a van and a truck were filed on Singh’s expense sheet, and Singh said he only uses those two vehicles for his campaign. Singh filed the use of the van and truck as in-kind donations.
“Failure to obey the Indiana election laws may corrupt the election process. I hope the other candidates are adhering to the law even though it is complex,” Singh stated.
Also, after becoming aware of the incorrect filings, Britt stated in an email to Current that he was resubmitting his in-kind invoices to the three candidates he supported to reflect a $1,999 political advertisement special Towne Post Network recently published.
The Hamilton County Election Board doesn’t audit the forms unless it receives a call requesting it do so. Once it receives a call, the board looks into the allegations and then gives the candidates the opportunity to amend the donations. If the candidate doesn’t do so, the corporation providing the illegal donation can be fined up to three times the amount of the donation. If the board decides the spending was reckless, the corporation may be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor if a prosecutor chooses to pursue the case.
Other organizations donating to campaigns that either donated more than allowed or donated more than allowed and also were filed with the wrong form include DMC Insurance, Inc. and R.N. Thompson Development Corp.