Clerk: Ingham Co. Commission candidate misreports campaign donations

Pena must correct ‘errors and omissions’ by Oct. 30 to comport with state law

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MONDAY, Oct. 19 — A Democratic candidate for the Ingham County Board of Commissioners has been given less than two weeks to fix a series of mistakes in his campaign finance report or risk falling further out of compliance with state law, county officials said.

Bob Pena, who defeated incumbent Commissioner Thomas Morgan for the Democratic nomination to represent Lansing’s east side, was fined $1,000 last week after he was late in reporting thousands of dollars in political donations and expenses from the last few months.

And according to Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, that’s no longer Pena’s only problem.

A “notice of errors and omissions” recently filed against Pena’s campaign includes a warning that his records of campaign donations in the latest election cycle were filed too early, lacked street addresses of the contributors and was riddled with mathematical errors and conflicting totals.

Byrum contends that Pena’s latest mistakes pushed him out of compliance with the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. Corrections are due by Oct. 30. And if elected in November, Pena will be asked to sign an affidavit testifying that he’s fully abiding by all state election requirements.

“It would be illegal to claim otherwise in that affidavit, so this must be fixed,” Byrum explained.

Pena has not return multiple calls to City Pulse in recent weeks.

Morgan, his former opponent, said last week that Pena is going to have to be “better about following the law and paying attention to details” if he’s ever going to “properly do the job of a county commissioner” in Ingham County.

“We will pay what we need to,” Pena penned in a letter to Byrum in response to his fines.

Before Pena reported more than $3,200 in contributions last week, he previously had declared he planned to raise less than $1,000 ahead of both the primary and general elections. Records, however, show he passed that mark in July and should have filed two reports for the primary election in August.

State law requires local political candidates to periodically report campaign donations and expenditures if the amount raised or spent exceeds $1,000 each during any given election cycle. County records show Pena received a waiver to those reporting requirements last May and had it reaffirmed in August when his committee changed treasurers, his records showed.

But a subsequent filing from last week indicates that Pena’s committee had already exceeded that $1,000 threshold in mid-July — a full month before that spending waiver was even refiled.

As a result, Pena was marked several weeks late in filing both his pre-election and post-election primary election reports, Byrum said. Fines are statutorily capped at $500 per report and increase for each day the disclosure is late. Officials dinged Pena for the full $1,000 penalty.

“I’m working through the reports but they appear to be absolutely riddled with errors,” Byrum explained to City Pulse last week. “It’s missing basic addresses for contributors among some other items, but I can plainly see it’s riddled with errors. We’ll have to send out a letter.”

Pena’s late records showed that his campaign collected at least $4,000 from about 20 individual donors since November 2018, including about $3,200 in in-kind contributions — some listed as debts. Records also showed his campaign account maintains a leftover balance of about $800.

Advertising invoices flagged earlier this month showed Pena spent more than $1,000 on campaign ads at City Pulse alone — a clear indication that he surpassed his legal spending limits. Pena declined to disclose those spending records when questioned by our reporting staff.

Byrum previously told City Pulse that had she known that Pena’s campaign spending exceeded $1,000, she would not have allowed his waiver to stay in place for the General Election. Still, the lack of oversight won’t do anything to jeopardize his bid for election in November, Byrum said.

“It’s not about what I would have done with that information. It’s what would the voters have done with that information. That’s the entire reason for the disclosures,” Morgan told City Pulse.

Pena’s reports had initially suggested that some donors — like Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing and Deputy Drain Commissioner Paul Pratt — had donated more than $400 each to his campaign since 2018. Byrum said those figures appear inaccurate. She thinks Pena’s campaign incorrectly merged overall cumulative contributions with those from individual donors.

Instead, the largest donors on the Pena’s latest report appear to have donated only $100 each. Records also showed Pena’s campaigns, in total, had doled out more than $3,000 for signs, advertisements and t-shirts — some of which was listed on finance reports as unpaid debts.

Multiple calls to Pena’s campaign treasurer, Carol Kasuda, were not returned to City Pulse.

“The goal of campaign finance reporting is to offer transparency,” Byrum added. “It allows voters to see who is paying for the campaign and where the money is going. It’s just unfortunate that this information was not provided to the public in a timely manner. Ignorance is not a defense.”

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