Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Election board rips anonymous complaint but will act on it anyway

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The three members of the Porter County Election Board were not at all pleased with the way a complaint against County Councilman Jim Biggs’ 2012 campaign finance reports was delivered to them, but they have asked their attorney Clay Patton to check into the claims to determine if violations did occur.

The board took up discussion of two anonymous letters at its meeting Friday. One dated March 14, 2013, asked the election board to “conduct a full and complete forensic audit” of Biggs’ 2012 pre-primary report and the subsequent annual report that he and his campaign treasurer Gloria Reed submitted. The documents were mailed in a box along with copies of the Indiana Election Code to board members as well as area newspapers, the County Prosecutor’s office, the Indiana Attorney General’s office, and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The second letter was sent early last week, dated April 11, to the same parties citing an amended report filed by Biggs and news reports that “continue to raise concerns about the validity, integrity and intent of the Committee to Elect Jim Biggs.”

Among the violations that the complaints alleged were failure to file a statement of organization, failure to file report donations on a timely basis, and failure to report donations and receipts of expenditures.

The state requires all candidates, open committees and political parties in county elections to report all contributions and receipts to the election board.

Biggs ran for Northern County Commissioner on the Republican ticket but was defeated in the May 2012 primary election by incumbent John Evans.

Biggs did not attend as he told the Chesterton Tribune later that no one from the election board requested he attend the meeting. Evans sat in the audience listening to the board’s discussion.

Board President and Republican member Patrick Lyp said as of Friday, no one has identified themselves to the board as the author of the letters. He believes this may be the first time the board has had to deal with an anonymous complaint since he joined the board in 2004.

“I cannot think of one instance where a complainant did not reveal themselves,” Lyp said.

He encouraged the individual or individuals to disclose themselves, even if it is done in “crayon on the back of a napkin.”

Lyp said the state’s election laws do not spell out how to handle anonymous complaints so it is up to the board whether or not to accept them. The board, he said, is able to advise the county prosecutor after its own investigation.

“As a general rule, I’m not a big fan of anonymous complaints, but we need to take complaints seriously. If they raise issues, we have an obligation to see if there is a basis to move forward,” said Lyp.

When complaints have been made in the past, the board has given candidates the opportunity to make the correction, he said.

The board’s secretary, County Clerk Karen Martin, said she was unhappy with the mailer’s decision to make the return address the same as the recipient’s address, which Martin said made it appear as if she had sent the box to herself. However, looking through the documents Martin said she believes that “75 percent of the reports had errors” and called on the board to take action.

“We need to research this,” Martin said. If the board looks at one report, then it should look at all of them and create a list of delinquent reports, she said. “It’s a concern of ours because we haven’t done so in the past.”

But not knowing who the accuser is makes it difficult to know what questions to ask in an audit, Martin added.

Also not a proponent of anonymous letters was Democratic member J.J. Stankiewicz.

“That’s nonsense. That’s child’s play. It’s not something I would be a part of. I would think this is head hunting, at best,” he said.

Stankiewicz said he would prefer the board wait with a hearing until the persons behind the complaint “has the courage or the veracity to document what they are charging and why” and he said Biggs should have the opportunity to face his accusers without “talking to a blank wall.”

Patton said Biggs did write the board a letter along with his amended report expressing his apologies for the inaccuracies. The report showed an in-kind donation from Golden Technologies of $7,150 for the campaign website and items regarding a fundraiser dinner in Portage.

Biggs communicated in his letter that he had not read the complaints. Patton said that had Biggs read the complaint, he could have seen what the valid concerns were and turn in his amended report based on those.

The board voted 3-0 to have Patton make a legal review of only Biggs’ amended report. Lyp asked Patton to also outline what the board’s obligations are. If the board schedules another meeting, it will ask Biggs to read the letter and submit his responses in writing.

Also, the board approved a motion that candidate campaign finance reports be scanned and available for public viewing on the County’s website, as suggested by Voters Registration Democratic director Kathy Kozuszek.

Biggs had told the Tribune this morning he has since read the letter and found some of the complaints had no basis in fact.

“I don’t understand it. It’s politics at its best,” said Biggs.

He said, for example, the accuser in his or her letter complains that Biggs did not report postage for the forget-me-not seed packets. Biggs said there was no postage because they were all handed out door to door or stuffed in newspaper boxes, not mailed out.

He did admit that he had been late with turning in his annual report but derived no benefit from it and “rushed” to get it in.

Biggs said he wished someone in the voters registration office had informed him of any errors they saw when he turned his reports in. He said he would be “happy to answer any questions the election board may have.”

Republican director in the voters office Sundae Schoon said she did not know there were violations because she did not know that Biggs had a website or a fundraiser.

 

 

Posted 4/22/2013