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Campaign finance woes trip up Jennings, Sanders

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Meanwhile, the city Campaign Finance Board recently put a lien on the Ozone Park home of Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica), Sanders' beleaguered colleague, because he owes the agency more than $45,000. Unlike most other members of the Council, the two have chosen not to participate in the city's matching funds program for candidates, and Sanders' campaign finances have come under attack by a challenger for his seat.Oversight of the candidates' fund-raising and spending is handled by both the Campaign Finance Board and the city Board of Elections. Until December, the Campaign Finance Board's sole task was to administer the matching public funds the city gives to candidates who observe certain contribution limits, but legislation passed that month by the City Council required future candidates to file disclosure forms even if they chose not to participate in the program. While the forms were due May 16, a spokeswoman for the Campaign Finance Board said Sanders did not turn his in until last Thursday. That would still be acceptable, she said, if Sanders' re-election committee had not yet raised funds or spent money in the race. Sanders, however, said Friday he and his committee members did not realize that was a violation and would seek to make restitution."We had an understanding that that was allowable," he said. The spokeswoman for the Campaign Finance Board said the standard Council fine for such a violation was $500, although it could be more or less depending on the circumstances. "If there's any penalties, we will pay them," Sanders said. The Laurelton councilman had already been criticized last Thursday by his Democratic opponent, Jamaica jobs counselor David Hooks Jr., about his dealings with the Board of Elections. Sanders sent in a candidate non-expenditure form before his first successful race in 2001, meaning that he turned over all fund-raising responsibilities to his committee, Friends of Sanders. The committee, however, has not sent the proper disclosure forms to the Board of Elections since 2002, an agency spokesman said. In papers that were filed with the board, the spokesman said Patrick White Jr. is listed as the committee's treasurer, and while he has told the agency he no longer holds the position, he has not sent in the paperwork acknowledging the change. As such, the board has taken White to State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens four times over not filing. He has been fined $545 during three of the hearings, and the board expects to soon go back to court. While Sanders has not been directly involved because he turned over the money role, he would be implicated if White sends in the form stating he has left his post."He'll be held accountable and we'll take him to court," the Elections Board spokesman said of that scenario.Sanders said the whole situation was a prolonged misunderstanding and that he would meet with the board Monday to clear up the issue. "We will go and sit with whoever and make sure we're in compliance," he said.With Jennings, the Campaign Finance Board filed a lien in State Supreme Court May 27 seeking more than $45,000 it says the councilman owes from his races in 2001 and 2003, some from public matching funds it said were not properly documented and some from subsequent penalties.Neither Jennings nor his aides could be reached for comment, but the councilman repeated his explanation for the problem again Friday during a commencement address at Jamaica's York College: that his accountant died during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, leaving his records either destroyed or in disarray.Other road bumps in Jennings' re-election bid include his censure by the Council in April for misconduct and his continued ex-communication by the Queens Democratic Party, which has backed challenger and former Councilman Thomas White. Sanders, meanwhile, returned to being a party outsider after he failed to get the group's endorsement amid community complaints that he has been unresponsive, a characterization he has challenged.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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