FRIDAY, Oct. 16 — A candidate for Ingham County Board of Commissioners has been fined $1,000 after he filed a report on campaign spending three months late — and only after City Pulse reported that he appeared to have violated state law.
Bob Pena, who defeated incumbent Commissioner Thomas Morgan for the Democratic nomination to represent Lansing’s east side, was fined after he was late in reporting thousands of dollars in political donations and expenses.
“We will pay what we need to,” Pena told County Clerk Barb Byrum in a letter alongside late reports for more than $3,200 in contributions. Before he reported it this week, Pena had declared he planned to raise less than $1,000. Records show he passed that mark in July. Reporting in Michigan can be waived at the clerk’s discretion if a candidate declares he will spend and take in less than $1,000 each in a campaign cycle.
Pena didn’t return multiple calls to City Pulse in recent weeks, but his former opponent said today that Pena is going to have to be “better about following the law and paying attention to details” if he’s ever going to “properly do the job of a county commissioner” in Ingham County.
“Our experiment with democracy doesn’t work without transparency,” Morgan told City Pulse via text message today. “We’re Democrats — we’re supposed to embrace strong campaign finance disclosure laws and accountability because citizens have a right to know.”
State law requires local political candidates to periodically report their political campaign donations and expenditures if the amount raised or spent exceeds $1,000 each during any given election cycle. County records show Pena received a waiver to those reporting requirements last May, indicating that his campaign planned to stay below those state-mandated thresholds.
Pena affirmed that waiver again in August when his committee changed treasurers, records showed. But a subsequent filing from this week indicates that Pena’s committee had already exceeded that $1,000 threshold in mid-July — a full month before that waiver was even refiled.
As a result, Pena was marked several weeks late in filing both his pre-election and post-election primary election reports, Byrum said. Fines are statutorily capped at $500 per report and increase for each day the disclosure is late. Officials dinged Pena for the full $1,000 penalty.
“I’m working through the reports but they appear to be absolutely riddled with errors,” Byrum explained to City Pulse this morning. “It’s missing basic addresses for contributors among some other items, but I can plainly see it’s riddled with errors. We’ll have to send out a letter.”
Pena’s late records showed that his campaign collected at least $4,000 from about 20 individual donors since November 2018, including about $3,200 in in-kind contributions — some listed as debts. Records also showed his campaign account maintains a leftover balance of about $800.
Advertising invoices flagged earlier this month showed Pena spent more than $1,000 on campaign ads at City Pulse alone — a clear indication that he surpassed his legal limits. Pena declined to disclose those spending records when questioned by our reporting staff.
Byrum previously told City Pulse that had she known that Pena’s campaign spending exceeded $1,000, she would not have allowed his waiver to stay in place for the General Election. Still, the lack of oversight won’t do anything to jeopardize his bid for election in November, Byrum said.
“It’s not about what I would have done with that information. It’s what would the voters have done with that information. That’s the entire reason for the disclosures,” Morgan added. “The information may not have changed any minds, but the problem with it being so late is the voters are supposed to have the information before they vote.”
Byrum said Pena will still likely be asked to correct several deficiencies with his latest report, which could theoretically lead to additional fines. But for now, they’re still capped at $1,000.
Pena’s largest individual donor was Harry Moore, a K-12 labor relations specialist in Charlotte who donated more than $800 to his campaigns, records showed. Others include Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, who pitched in nearly $700 and Deputy Ingham County Drain Commissioner Paul Pratt who reportedly donated nearly $400 to Pena’s political campaigns.
Records also show Pena’s campaigns, in total, had doled out more than $3,000 for signs, advertisements and t-shirts — some of which was listed on finance reports as unpaid debts. Multiple calls to Pena’s campaign treasurer, Carol Kasuda, were not returned to City Pulse.
“The goal of campaign finance reporting is to offer transparency,” Byrum added. “It allows voters to see who is paying for the campaign and where the money is going. It’s just unfortunate that this information was not provided to the public in a timely manner. Ignorance is not a defense.”