Mesa Republican Matt Salmon should pay only about one-third of a $10,000 fine levied for unintentional late reporting of campaign spending last year, a state administrative law judge said in a recommendation released Tuesday.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission erred in ordering the highest possible fine under its policies in February, said judge Brian B. Tully. The judge recommended a fine of $3,471.
Salmon acted "in good faith" to comply with complicated reporting rules while spending $2 million in a losing bid for the governor’s office, Tully said.
Salmon called Tully’s recommendation a "major victory" because administrative judges usually approve sanctions by state agencies.
"The judge said what we’ve been saying all along," Salmon said. "I feel very, very good about this."
The commission will decide June 24 whether to accept Tully’s recommendation. Executive director Colleen Conner said she might ask the commission to approve the lower fine, but she wants the five-member group to reject Tully’s rationale behind any reduction.
"This is a major precedentsetting case," Conner said. "We should establish the principle that candidates will comply with the statutes on reporting requirements."
Salmon, an opponent of public financing for campaigns, has been locked in a bitter feud with Connor and the commission for months. The commission had ruled that Salmon was late in reporting nearly $100,000 in spending during the Republican primary campaign. But Tully said that amount included more than $31,000 in spending that already had been considered and cleared by the commission in late August.
Tully said he couldn’t determine after a May 6 hearing exactly how much spending was reported late. The amount is between $3,471 and $66,925, Tully said.
"However, the assessment of a $10,000 fine, while clearly within the authority of the commission, appears extremely high given the totality of the evidence of record," Tully wrote.