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Florida Elections Commission is owed almost $1.4 million in unpaid fines

TALLAHASSEE — Candidates, consultants and political organizations owe the Florida Elections Commission almost $1.4 million in unpaid fines from cases stretching as far back as 1990, state records show.

The debts in 184 cases — many of which are already being written off by the state — have prompted members of the panel to consider whether and how to go after those who have defied an order to pay up for as long as 20 years. But the issue is complicated by how much authority the commission even has to use potentially effective tools to try to extract payments from the scofflaws.

The vast majority of the unpaid fines are for $5,000 or less, but there are also a handful of large payments outstanding. Ted Brabham, a former chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, owes more than a third of the total amount, more than $468,000 — the result of a scandal during the 1996 election.

"Unfortunately, I don't have the money," Brabham said Wednesday. " … I couldn't pay 10 percent of it."

More familiar names also crop up on the list of those who haven't paid up.

Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor owes $82,017, stemming from a 1999 case that included 206 counts against him.

Miguel Aguirre, a candidate for mayor of Hialeah Gardens, owes $102,082.74 after a 72-count case against him from 2001.

Peter Schorsch, a political consultant, owes the commission $67,667.50 for a 2005 case against Take Back Tampa Bay, an organization he founded to promote progressive candidates for the Legislature. The case included 40 counts.

Schorsch, who also runs the political website SaintPeters, said he tried to offer a settlement to the commission last year, but the proposal was rejected. Schorsch said he plans to try again.

"While I regret the action which led to these fines, I believe the amount I was fined is beyond punitive, so I have not made any attempt to pay them," he said.

Other names are regularly in the news or curiosities. Political activist Doug Guetzloe owes $12,000. The Prohibition Party owes $4,567.

Commission members are trying to sort out how to force those who owe money to pay up.

At a meeting this week, commissioners floated ideas including calling in a collection agency, a process now handled by the Department of Financial Services, according to a memo on the unpaid fines.

"If we can't enforce it, then why would anybody ever pay us a fine?" said commission member Brian Seymour.

Other commissioners said the panel might be better served by alerting the Legislature or another better-funded agency of the potential windfall for the state.

"For us to spend the limited resources we have, and our time … I think is not part of what we should be doing," said member Gregory King.

Florida Elections Commission is owed almost $1.4 million in unpaid fines 05/11/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 9:41pm]
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