Today’s news:

Jennings says $8K penalty retaliation for no-tax vote

Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) claims he is “still paying the price” for his vote against raising property taxes in the City Council after the city Campaign Finance Board levied more than $8,000 in fines against him for failing to file audit reports and accurate spending statements.

Jennings, who also accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of temporarily taking away his City Hall parking privileges because of the vote, hinted that decision has now influenced the amount of fines the campaign board issued.

“What concerns me about the Campaign Finance Board is how it has become politicized and the arbitrary way they decide on who should be fined and for how much,” he said.

Jennings was one of three Queens council members to vote against the unpopular 18.5 percent property tax. He joined Councilmen Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) in oppoing the hike.

The Campaign Finance Board is fining Jennings $4,134 for failing to respond to a draft audit report, $2,000 for failing to report $62,474 in contributions, another $2,000 for failing to report $55,597 in expenses, $200 for one unregistered political committee contribution and $40 for failing to report intermediaries, according to records compiled by the board. The fines against him total $8,374.

Jennings said he lost all his financial records on Sept. 11 when his election campaign treasurer Frank Lin died in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. He said since Lin’s office was completely destroyed he could not file statements to the finance board.

Campaign Finance Board spokesman Greg Bensinger said, however, the fines stem from financial statements during the whole election cycle, including records not lost in the Sept. 11 attacks. He dismissed Jennings’ claim that politics was involved in the size of the fine determined by city officials.

“We’re a non-partisan agency, we don’t get involved in the day-to-day workings of the City Council,” he said. “We discovered [Jennings] had certain dollar amounts that, when we did the math, were missing.”

Bensinger said all candidates must file draft and final audit reports to show their incoming and outgoing expenses. Bensinger said Jennings’ office failed to file any audit reports for months while other candidates were able to promptly reply even after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“He had quite a window,” Bensinger said. “We give [elected officials] ample time.”

Bensinger said Jennings has the option of appealing the board’s decision to fine him. He said a final step in the process to get Jennings to file his audit report would be a formal request that he personally appear with his treasurer in front of the board.

Any of the fines will not prevent a re-election bid, Bensinger said.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall was also fined by the board — $100 for a late response to the audit request and $180 for being $100 over the limit in contributions.

Her spokesman, Dan Andrews, said he could not comment on the fines because campaign officials responsible for filing financial statements were unavailable at press time.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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