Ethics director lists refunds, fines waived
The state Ethics Commission is waiving a total of $188,425 in fines from the 1998 election period and refunding another $7,950 because of a laundry list of problems.
But Carson City’s Wally Earhart, who paid $3,750 for not filing his disclosure statement on time, isn’t on the list – at least at this point.
“He didn’t request a waiver or refund,” said Ethics Commission Director Ken Rohrs.
He said the commission acted on the cases of those 79 candidates who either hadn’t paid yet or requested reconsideration of their case.
He said some those include candidates with extenuating circumstances such as a death in the family, those where there was no proof they ever received notice of the requirement, those who filed in late 1997 thinking that covered the 1998 requirement and a few cases where it’s not sure who made the mistake.
“Well, I will be requesting a refund,” said Earhart who conceded the error in his case was his because his forms “just didn’t get mailed on time.”
“If it was fair that someone got a refund, then I think all should be entitled,” he said.
Earhart said in his case he wasn’t aware the form didn’t get there but that no one from the commission informed him of that until the fines had built up to $3,750.
“Upon notice, I hand carried it to them. I didn’t know it wasn’t there and I think they could have let me know before it got to thousands of dollars.”
Rohrs said the state and counties will work to fix some of the inconsistencies but that, for this first year since the commission was reorganized and expanded by the 1999 Legislature, the decision was made to forgive a lot of the fines, clearing many by giving the candidate or public official the benefit of the doubt.
Four fines were changed because the amounts originally charged were wrong. One of them, for example, was fined $3,375 when he was actually only a couple of days late and owed just $325. Altogether, fines totaling $4,600 against the four were cut to $1,125.
Rohrs said along those same lines, fines against 13 individual public officials and all nine members of the Washoe County Department of Water Resources were forgiven because “they should never have been fined in the first place.”
The water commission members all filed their ethics reports on time. The county was supposed to send them to the state but didn’t.
“How can we blame them?” said Rohrs. “And fining the county, that’s just transferring money from one government pocket to another.”
Others on that list included a governor’s aide whose form got lost in that office’s interdepartmental mail.
And a couple of others on the list did file their forms – they were in commission files – but fines were issued in error. Altogether, $35,425 in fines were forgiven and $1,875 ordered refunded to those public officials.
In 22 cases – all new candidates who had never dealt with the rules before – there is simply no proof in the file that they were ever told about the ethics filing requirements.
“My suspicion is most of them were,” said Rohrs. “But we can’t prove it in a court of law.” He said the problem could have happened with the commission’s files or the county clerks who originally took their filing papers but, without laying blame, “that doesn’t change the fact we can’t prove it.”
The total forgiven there, he said, is $56,400.
He said seven of those originally fined had mailed in their reports in late 1997 – in November or December – and weren’t aware they had to repeat the same filing after the new year to comply with the law.
“In none of these files is there an indication they were told they were required to file again,” he said. “Again, it’s a question of proof and I think before a court takes their money we have to be able to prove it.”
So the commission decided to forgive the $22,025 they were originally fined.
Those with extenuating circumstances including one candidate who was in an auto accident, one out of the country on sabbatical, another whose mother was dying in Tennessee and one who had cancer. The total forgiven there was $12,800 in fines.
The remaining 20 candidates on the list are those the commission decided to compromise on but not forgive entirely. Rohrs said the decision was made to cut most of those fines to $575 – a week’s worth of fines.
“The commission felt we should have been able to get these people and tell them they hadn’t filed before the end of May so they decided this one time to set $575 as their bill,” said Rohrs.
He said he has problems with some of those candidates who included among their reasons for being late the fact that “they have a busy life.”
“That doesn’t cut it,” he said.
As a result, $61,775 in fines was ordered cut to just $11,500 for those officials and another $5,800 refunded.