State Democrats are bracing for what is expected to be the largest fine ever imposed on the Hawaii party by the Federal Elections Commission for a series of alleged violations of federal campaign regulations during the 2012 election cycle.
Party officials declined to discuss details of the case because it is ongoing, but a source familiar with the FEC investigation said the alleged violations center on technical bookkeeping and money-handling errors as the party supported Democratic candidates during its coordinated campaign in 2012.
The Hawaii Democrats’ coordinated campaigns are launched during most election cycles to raise and pool money, which is then distributed to support party candidates in targeted races.
Federal fines in the ongoing case are expected to amount to tens of thousands of dollars, and one observer said the total might reach as high as the “low six figures.”
Newly elected Hawaii party Chairman Tim Vandeveer said party officials have been aware for “quite some time” that a large fine was pending, and had been given a “ballpark figure” of how much the fine is likely to be. The FEC has fined the party for missteps in the past, but “not anything nearly this size,” he said.
“It’s something that we should be able to tackle,” Vandeveer said. “It’s significant, but it’s going to be something that we can either break down into monthly installments or figure out a way to pay. But we’ll survive, we’ll get through it and we have put measures in place to not get into the same situation again.”
The Hawaii party has been fined in the past for failing to comply with federal requirements, including a $22,000 fine that was imposed for errors in the 2002 election cycle.
Party leadership was also reportedly slow to respond to FEC inquiries about problems in the 2012 cycle, and that history could be prompting federal authorities to contemplate larger fines for the alleged violations, according to officials familiar with the FEC inquiry.
Dante Carpenter, who was party chairman in 2012, did not respond to a request for comment about the case.
FEC documents show the agency has fined the party repeatedly over lapses in campaign funding and reporting:
>> The Hawaii party paid a $325 fine in 2014 for filing a required monthly report late in September 2014, and earlier this year agreed to pay $6,375 in another negotiated settlement over deficiencies in party filings in the 2014 election cycle.
Federal officials also reported in December that the party “did not respond, responded inadequately or responded late” to eight of 16 requests for information about the party’s 2014 election cycle filings.
>> The FEC on Jan. 24, 2013, announced the party had failed to file a 12-day pre-general election report in 2012, and imposed a fine of $5,500.
>> The party paid a $5,000 civil penalty for violations during the 2006 election cycle, including failure to file required information and acceptance of a $10,000 excessive contribution.
>> The FEC fined the Hawaii party $22,000 in 2007 after an audit of party finances for the 2002 election cycle concluded the party had accepted $36,000 in contributions in excess of federal contribution limits and had deposited $30,000 in nonallowable funds into its federal campaign account.
That audit of 2002 spending also found the party lacked proper documentation for $155,125 that was mostly spent on radio and television advertising in 2002, according to FEC records. Those problems led to $22,000 in fines, according to FEC records.