April 23, 2014

District Attorney Office yet to investigate campaign finance complaint

The Johnson County District Attorney’s Office has yet to investigate a campaign finance complaint The Gardner News filed in early January.

“You’ve got to understand, we’re not a large office and we have limited resources,” district attorney Steve Howe said. “It’s not that we don’t deem this an important matter. We will look into the complaint, but again part of our job is to try to prioritize depending on the type of cases we’re handed.”

Campaign finance reports for the April 2009 Gardner municipal elections were due to the county election office by Dec. 31, 2009. As of March 24, 2010, Senior Citizens for Lower Taxes (SCLT), organized by George Bulgaris, had not filed a campaign finance report with the Johnson County Election Office.

SCLT formed in support of then candidates Dave Drovetta, Eric Schulz and Dennis Pugh and sent a number of mailers to Gardner voters’ homes last spring.

Last March, the Gardner News contacted Bulgaris. He said he had been a resident of Gardner for two years, but refused to answer questions about the number of individuals in SCLT and how much money the group had spent to date.

Bulgaris said SCLT utilized local business TradeNet to produce and mail its full glossy postcards last spring, but both he and TradeNet owner Tom Mertz refused to comment on costs at the time saying they would be detailed in campaign finance reports due at the end of 2009.

In late January, Mertz said he does not comment on clients of TradeNet. According to Johnson County tax records, Bulgaris does not own the home from which SCLT was launched and attempts by The Gardner News to reach Bulgaris since January have been unsuccessful.

Failing to file a campaign finance report is a misdemeanor A violation that must be tried through the criminal courts. The state statute governing campaign finance reporting for cities of the second class – like Gardner – was written in 1909. After prosecution for failing to file a report and a guilty conviction, the penalty is $100.

Howe said he wouldn’t comment on a specific case, but campaign finance laws probably should be modified by the state Legislature to ensure that things are transparent and that people follow the rules.

“They’re out of date and need to be addressed,” Howe said. “…Some of the rules that are in place are kind of cloudy.”

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