Friday, April 26, 2002
Holden to Weigh Stipulating to Campaign Finance Law Violation
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Councilman Nate Holden and his campaign treasurer yesterday asked the city Ethics Commission to have the night to think about whether they wanted to stipulate to committing 31 violations of campaign finance laws during Holden’s 1999 re-election campaign. The alleged violations included accepting $5,150 in contributions that exceeded the city limit of $500 per person, per election.
The commission also accused Holden and his campaign treasurer, Anne Froelich, of submitting 20 additional matching fund claims for contributions that had already been matched, resulting in $2,720 in excess matching funds.
Individual contributions are matched dollar-for-dollar up to $250.
As the six-hour-long hearing wrapped up for the day, Holden and Froelich agreed to admit to 27 of the 31 counts, but changed their minds after Assistant City Attorney Anthony Saul Alperin advised them that a stipulation could prevent them from seeking recourse in the courts.
“Can we sleep on it?” Holden asked commission President Miriam Krinsky.
Holden said he and Froelich, did “everything humanly possible” to avoid any violations of the campaign finance law, and accused the commission of targeting him unfairly. Holden also accused the panel of levying fines against elected officials arbitrarily and without consistency as he named several of his colleagues and the fines they received for their violations. All the fines and penalties were much less than what the commission was proposing for him, Holden said.
“If they had audited [other] campaigns with the same intensity that they’d audited mine, you’d find more problems,” Holden said.
Eric Tan, City Ethics Commission director of audits and compliance, took the stand for two-and-a-half hours as a witness for the commission, explaining count by count the charges against Holden and Froelich and how each contributor check or pair of checks was a violation of the campaign finance law.
Holden’s campaign violated a number of laws during his 1999 campaign, including accepting more than one check from individuals that totaled in excess of the $500 limit, and some checks were submitted twice to receive matching funds, funds which were forwarded to Holden’s campaign, Tan testified.
“We certainly tried very hard to identify all the people who gave us money and returned all the checks we shouldn’t have accepted,” Froelich said.
Only 16 charges were explained by Tan before the commission broke for the day.
Holden and the commission staff debated for nearly an hour and a half over whether Holden should be informed of the number of hours spent conducting audits on other elected officials.
Deena Ghaly, the commission’s director of enforcement, argued that such information was irrelevant to Holden’s case, the councilman countered it is necessary to show the process has been unfair to him.
“If I want to show my equal rights were violated, then I need the information to show that,” Holden said.
After the commission voted to deny the majority of Holden’s request, he asked to continue the hearing for 24 hours so he could hire an attorney and seek redress in the Superior Court.
The commission disagreed and pressed on with the hearing, but allowed Holden to have seven of his 16 last-minute witnesses called. Commission staff also began working immediately on tallying the number of hours auditors had worked on specific audits for the 1997 and 1999 campaigns.
This is the second time Holden has faced sanctions from the Ethics Commission. Holden and Froehlich were fined $27,500 in 1999 for excess contributions and spending out of an account reserved for communicating with constituents during his 1995 reelection campaign.
The fine, which was reached in a settlement, was the largest action ever taken against a sitting election official by the commission.
The action came just days before the election and Holden has said he was persuaded to settle by people in his campaign to avoid having a negative impact on his reelection bid.
If the commission finds the accusations to be true, it can take Holden’s prior campaign violations into account when determining the penalty.
The maximum penalty is $5,000 for each violation-$155,000 if all the accusations are sustained.
Holden is not the only member of the City Council to run into trouble with the Ethics Commission in past months.
City Council President Alex Padilla agreed to a settlement in January to pay more than $78,500 in fines and penalties after a commission audit discovered he had exceeding the spending limit in his 1999 campaign for office by more than $54,000.
Councilman Hal Bernson, who had already been fined twice for campaign finance law violations, was fined $18,500 in August for accepting excess contributions. Bernson and treasurer Leo Howard were charged with taking $11,600 in donations that exceeded the city’s per-person limits for the councilman’s 1999 re-election campaign.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company