A high profile mayoralty candidate who accepted a campaign donation in exchange for an offer of ‘political favours’ – filed a “no contest plea” to eight criminal charges, including: receiving unlawful compensation for official acts, accepting illegal campaign contributions and filing a false campaign financial report (it was co-signed by the candidate’s treasurer). The candidate, who was recorded on video accepting the donation from an undercover enforcement agent posing as a businessman seeking “access” favours, has been sentenced to a 22.4 month jail term, fined, and required to do 200 hours of community service on release from incarceration.
Is this a case of “entrapment” involving an innocent scapegoat, as claimed? Should donations to political candidates entitle donors “access” to donation recipients? What community standards should we seek to uphold in creating laws relating to political campaign contributions? Where does the fine line exist between the “letter” and the “spirit” of the law relating to these compliance matters?
Case Study: 66 year-old former Orange County Commissioner Mildred Fernandez rose to become one of Central Florida’s most prominent Hispanics in electoral office before being arrested in April 2010 and charged with bribery, racketeering and corruption. She was forced to stand down from her public office and abandon her 2010 Orange County mayoralty bid.
She was was sentenced on 9 February 2012 by Orange County Circuit Judge C. Jeffrey Arnold to 22.43 months in a state prison. Arnold noted that the $1,000 mayoralty campaign donation she unlawfully accepted was still missing despite having been handed, as she claimed, to her campaign treasurer/accountant. (From 1 October 2009 up until the time she was arrested in April 2010, her campaign treasurer was John M Carr CPA, principal, director and registered agent of Florida-based corporation “Better Business Services, Inc.” – BBS dot com).
Former Republican mayoral candidate Fernandez managed to avoid facing a jury trial by entering a “no contest plea” to the bulk of the charges laid against her. She never apologised to state authorities for her lapse in ethical standards, but rather chose to present herself as an innocent political “scapegoat”. The Judge referred to her at sentencing as a “good person who had made a “bad decision”.
References: Sentencing of Mildred Fernandez.
Mildred Fernandez sentenced in Corruption Case.
Comment: The law relating to mayoralty campaign contributions in New Zealand is The Local Electoral Act. Candidates wishing to know whether or not they must dislose on official financial returns the identities of person(s) whom they know to have contributed large “anonymous” donations, over $1,000, should refer to this Act. Candidates must be “up-front” about their relationships with donors who they or others might suspect to be seeking to exchange campaign donations for political favors, rather than indulging in obfuscation, lies and deceit.
The penalty for submitting a return when knowing that it is false is imprisonment for up to two years or a fine up to $10,000. Under the electoral law, a sitting MP must vacate his or her seat if convicted of a crime punishable by two years or upwards.