The South Carolina House Ethics Committee has delayed its decision on a Florence legislator who owes a $2,200 fine for not filing his October campaign finance report until nearly a month after Election Day.
State Rep. Terry Alexander, D-Florence, had appealed the fine. Alexander argued he had not filed due to his confusion over how to report donations through a Democratic Party-linked group. He backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary and said he received 18,000 small individual donations from nationwide Sanders supporters through the ActBlue fundraising website.
“I had contributions coming from ten cents to ten dollars, five dollars… whatever the case might be,” Alexander told the Ethics Committee on Wednesday. “As a matter of fact, I’m still getting those checks. So I had issues trying to put it all together.”
The ActBlue system was a windfall for Alexander’s campaign. He raised nearly $92,000 for his 2016 reelection, according to campaign records, compared with $38,000 in his race two years earlier and $9,700 in 2012. Only his 2014 race had a primary opponent and he did not face any Election Day opposition for any of those races.
Alexander was initially fined $100 for not filing his campaign’s financial documents by an Oct. 30 deadline. Under House rules, that fine increases by $10 each day for ten days after the Ethics Committee notifies a candidate of a violation. The fine then increases again to $100 per day. Committee staff said Alexander submitted his paperwork on December 1.
The Ethics Committee deliberated in executive session for about 20 minutes before deciding to put off a vote until their meeting next week. Some ethics committee members had questions about why it took the Florence Democrat so long to seek help submitting his filings, particularly since he was aware of the ActBlue issues in July.
“This was due on October 30. Why was it filed on 12/1 instead of October 30 and saying you were having problems sorting through it?” State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, asked. Alexander responded that he been trying to work through the issues even before the Ethics Committee staff had started auditing his campaign’s finances in July.
Part of the problem, according to Alexander, was the complicated method that ActBlue uses to divide campaign donations between various candidates who endorsed Sanders. He gave an example a $25 donation was split evenly between eight different candidates. ActBlue would then bundle the money together into single checks each month.
Alexander received a $61,000 check from the group in his first month. Since state law limits candidates to only $1,000 contribution from an individual or organization, Alexander said he had to log into ActBlue’s database to track down each donor’s name and amount. South Carolina law does not require a campaign to identify donors who contribute less than $100 (candidates usually total these small donations as “Unitemized Contributions” in their submitted finance documents). Complicating the matter was that service charges were deducted from the original donation, Alexander said.
The Ethics Committee on Thursday did agree to waive a $100 late filing fee for fellow State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, who was a day late in filing for the Oct. 30 deadline. Neal said he had been sick at the time.