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HomeNewsArchivesABRAMSON: USE FINES TO ENFORCE CAMPAIGN LAWS

ABRAMSON: USE FINES TO ENFORCE CAMPAIGN LAWS

Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. used a thirty-minute appearance on public television's Behind the Headlines program Sunday night to explain how and his office has stepped up enforcement of the territory's campaign disclosure laws.
Although the law has been on the books for awhile, a lack of funds and a lack of personnel to monitor it has made compliance difficult to enforce.
However, Abramson told St. Thomas Source Monday he is not going to let lack of money stand in the way of enforcing campaign disclosure laws.
"I am going to use the fines to finance" the enforcement and monitoring of the law.
The Election System also has its eyes open to any attempt by political candidates to protect the identity of their contributors.
"We have put in place the mechanisms to assist the elected officials with all scenarios they may face in terms of cash contributions," Abramson told program host Osbert Potter.
"I will not fool myself into believing that we can track every cash contribution."
he admitted, but said the success of the law will depend on elected officials
remaining honest. Abramson said he is hopeful that every elected official will want to comply with the law to avoid the negative publicity that violation of the law could generate. "They should do all possible to remain in compliance."
All elected officials are required to file disclosure statements semi-annually. Abramson said all but four senators were late filing in December of 1999.
The four who did comply were Sens. Norman Jno Baptiste, Lorraine Berry, Roosevelt David and George Goodwin.
The fines, which were signed into law in December, are $10 per day for every day the statements are not filed.
The next filing will be due June 30.
One area of concentration is anonymous cash contributions.
"These contributions cannot and should not be used," Abramson said, noting that candidates cannot say where anonymous donations have come from, "therefore, they shouldn't use the money."
Defining an anonymous contribution Abramson said, "That's when you come to work and meet an envelope under the door and you don't know who put it there."
Abramson said his experience working at the Legislature made him believe that scenario could happen.
The maximum amount that can be contributed by any one person to any one candidate per year cannot exceed $1000, according to existing law.
In attempting to downplay suggestions that the system is suddenly enforcing campaign disclosure laws, Abramson said the law has been around since 1990, but was never funded. The system received limited funds in 1997 and has been enforcing its provisions since. Abramson said at that time he asked the Legislature for $100,000 to monitor and enforce campaign disclosure laws. They gave him $20,000.
Though the Election System of the Virgin Islands has an annual appropriation of about $800,000 Abramson is not allowed to use any of that money for disclosure work. The Election System Board passed a resolution in 1995 saying no money could be used from the general budget that wasn't specifically earmarked for disclosure enforcement and monitoring.
Part of the bill that was signed into law last December will require all public officials to submit an audited financial statement at the end of 2000 showing exactly how campaign contributions were used. Reports must include non-monetary contributions, too, according to Abramson.
However, Abramson told Potter, "There is not much you can do with enforcement until the funds are there to support it."

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Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. used a thirty-minute appearance on public television's Behind the Headlines program Sunday night to explain how and his office has stepped up enforcement of the territory's campaign disclosure laws.
Although the law has been on the books for awhile, a lack of funds and a lack of personnel to monitor it has made compliance difficult to enforce.
However, Abramson told St. Thomas Source Monday he is not going to let lack of money stand in the way of enforcing campaign disclosure laws.
"I am going to use the fines to finance" the enforcement and monitoring of the law.
The Election System also has its eyes open to any attempt by political candidates to protect the identity of their contributors.
"We have put in place the mechanisms to assist the elected officials with all scenarios they may face in terms of cash contributions," Abramson told program host Osbert Potter.
"I will not fool myself into believing that we can track every cash contribution."
he admitted, but said the success of the law will depend on elected officials
remaining honest. Abramson said he is hopeful that every elected official will want to comply with the law to avoid the negative publicity that violation of the law could generate. "They should do all possible to remain in compliance."
All elected officials are required to file disclosure statements semi-annually. Abramson said all but four senators were late filing in December of 1999.
The four who did comply were Sens. Norman Jno Baptiste, Lorraine Berry, Roosevelt David and George Goodwin.
The fines, which were signed into law in December, are $10 per day for every day the statements are not filed.
The next filing will be due June 30.
One area of concentration is anonymous cash contributions.
"These contributions cannot and should not be used," Abramson said, noting that candidates cannot say where anonymous donations have come from, "therefore, they shouldn't use the money."
Defining an anonymous contribution Abramson said, "That's when you come to work and meet an envelope under the door and you don't know who put it there."
Abramson said his experience working at the Legislature made him believe that scenario could happen.
The maximum amount that can be contributed by any one person to any one candidate per year cannot exceed $1000, according to existing law.
In attempting to downplay suggestions that the system is suddenly enforcing campaign disclosure laws, Abramson said the law has been around since 1990, but was never funded. The system received limited funds in 1997 and has been enforcing its provisions since. Abramson said at that time he asked the Legislature for $100,000 to monitor and enforce campaign disclosure laws. They gave him $20,000.
Though the Election System of the Virgin Islands has an annual appropriation of about $800,000 Abramson is not allowed to use any of that money for disclosure work. The Election System Board passed a resolution in 1995 saying no money could be used from the general budget that wasn't specifically earmarked for disclosure enforcement and monitoring.
Part of the bill that was signed into law last December will require all public officials to submit an audited financial statement at the end of 2000 showing exactly how campaign contributions were used. Reports must include non-monetary contributions, too, according to Abramson.
However, Abramson told Potter, "There is not much you can do with enforcement until the funds are there to support it."