[Update: House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, himself a target of one of the recall drives mentioned below, sent a letter Wednesday to the Louisiana Ethics Board urging it to waive the fines levied against the teachers.]
A staff attorney for the Louisiana Board of Ethics is recommending that the board decline to waive $1,000 fines levied against a pair of Louisiana teachers who spearheaded separate recall efforts against Gov. Bobby Jindal and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. The board fined Brenda Romero and Angie Bonvillian for failing to file campaign finance reports on time.
In both cases the teachers, after being notified that they were being fined, requested a waiver and pleaded that in organizing the recall drives they found themselves in over their heads.
Here’s Romero’s waiver request letter:
First I would like to apologize for the late filing of that report. When I received your initial letter about the financial reports I did not understand that I was obligated to file the first one within 45 days. That misunderstanding was my error and I do sincerely apologize. I was under the impression even though you had sent the letter setting out the filing requirements that I was only obligated to file once the recall was over, a naive assumption resulting from my ignorance of this whole system.
Filing the recall petition was my first venture into anything remotely related to politics. Once the recall began those of us involved were deluged with attention from the media as well as emails and phone calls from people wanting to sign the petition. I felt I was pulled in every direction. I was so busy making sure that those requests were answered and that we were following the instructions for signing the petitions to the letter that thoughts of filing a financial report fell off my radar. Handling the recall was like nothing I’d ever experienced. My family was even neglected as I divided my time between doing my job in the classroom and recalling after hours and on weekends. Unfortunately in the frenzy of making myself available to people who needed guidance to work the recall and making sure we were doing the recall petitions correctly, filing that first report simply slipped my mind.
I don’t mean to sound as though I am making excuses. Rather I am hoping that you will understand that I, in fact all of us working on the recall, was hit with something that I had never expected. Because I was so focused on handling the recall without neglecting my job, the financial reporting wasn’t done as it should have been. Also and again my naiveté is obvious here: when I did think about the reports I would remind myself how little money we’d collected.
When I began to hear murmurings that we should have filed and didn’t I called the Secretary of State Campaign Office and spoke to Ms. Sommers. I was under the impression that if we’d collected only small amounts such as $50 from individuals that we were under no obligation to report it at the moment. Ms. Sommers painstakingly answered all my questions and did everything she could to help me understand, unfortunately I obviously misunderstood. When I saw the Louisiana GOP making noises that we had failed to report in a timely fashion I knew we must have missed a deadline. My first reaction was sheer panic. Once that passed, although it never did entirely, we — Angie Bonviliain with the Jindal Recall along with me for the Kleckley Recall — found someone who could help us file the report and did so.
Please understand that there was absolutely no malice intended in my delinquent filing of the first financial reports. In fact it would have helped us by proving that the unions had not contributed huge amounts of money to the recall as was reported by several people in the media. Still my only defense is an embarrassing ignorance of the law. I have never been involved in politics and I have certainly never been responsible for filing financial reports for a campaign. I have spent almost 30 years in the classroom teaching high school students and keeping my political opinions to myself day in and day out. I filed the recall petition because I finally could not stay silent any longer. In retrospect I see that it would have been wiser to have someone else file it — someone with more political savvy who would have known how to handle the obligations that came with it. I could have helped that person, had no responsibility for filing anything and I wouldn’t have the fine to worry about now.
Again, I very much appreciate that you have reduced the fine. I hope that you will understand that there was no malice intended in the late filing of the first report. If you can possibly further reduce the fine or waive it altogether I would be tremendously grateful. If not I will find a way to pay it. Since the recall has no funds at this time the fine will come from my personal account, but if that is your decision I will abide by it.
When it did finally report its finances, the Jindal Recall group reported a mere $525.93 in receipts; the anti-Kleckley campaign generated $1,600 in contributions.
To read Bonvillain's waiver request, click here.