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Wednesday, February 13,2013

The campaign finance files

Several problems with campaign filings of two LCC trustee candidates

by Sam Inglot
Robin Smith, secretary of the Lansing Community College Board of Trustees, owes her running mate a couple of thousand dollars and the Ingham County Clerk’s office some important paperwork — both of which are campaign finance law violations. 

Smith and Joe Manzella ran as a team for two spots on the LCC Board in the fall election. Smith, the incumbent, won back her seat, while Manzella didn’t make the cut. But election debts still need to be settled between the two.

Manzella said he fronted the cost of campaign mailers that featured both himself and Smith in October. The total cost was $5,232.23. Manzella had planned on Smith’s reimbursing him half the cost before the end of the election, but Manzella wound up stuck with the entire bill. 

After trying unsuccessfully to collect the debt, Manzella said he was forced to report the money Smith owed on his campaign finance reports after the election. In his post-general election campaign finance report, Manzella wrote that “Robin Smith for LCC” still owed him $2,432.23 as of Dec. 13. 

Neither the cost of the mailers nor the debt to Manzella was listed on Smith’s campaign finance reports. 

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said candidate committees are not allowed to lend each other money. Her office sent out letters to Manzella and Smith outlining the errors in their reports on Feb. 7.  She said they have until Friday to address the issue. 

Byrum said the two should have paid for the mailers separately, but Smith still needs to pay Manzella back. 

“It’s clearly an expense, but unfortunately it was done incorrectly,” Byrum said. “But as long as there is disclosure so that the public knows what occurred” and the records are fixed, there shouldn’t be any penalties.  

The debt owed to Manzella isn’t Smith’s only problem. She has not signed a “Post-Election Campaign Finance Compliance Statement,” an affidavit required for elected officials before taking office, Byrum said. It states that all campaign filings are in order with no outstanding fines. Failure to file the form is a misdemeanor. 

Byrum said if Smith doesn’t fix the errors in her campaign filings, pay Manzella back and sign the affidavit by Friday then the issue could be turned over to the Attorney General’s Office. 

Smith blamed the errors and violations on ignorance. She said she never had to file in her last election because she didn’t raise or spend over $1,000, so this was her first time.

“I didn’t really have the understanding of working on a campaign together and how to separate things,” she said. “I will work with their office to make sure I do so. I’m meeting with them on Friday to get this all sorted out.”

She said she was planning a fundraiser to help pay back Manzella. The three other candidates — Todd Heywood, Lawrence Hidalgo and John Roy Castillo — did not have any campaign finance errors.

In other campaign finance news, Lansing City Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson has paid back the $500 she owed to the state for failing to file a post-primary election report for her state House campaign last year. She was originally fined $1,000 by the state, but a spokesman for the Bureau of Elections said it was later reduced to $500 based on the amount Robinson raised. City Pulse first reported the fine on Jan. 9; it was paid on Jan. 28.

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