On March 28, 2018, the State Board of Elections received a handwritten note from Logan Martin, who had recently assumed leadership of the newly revived Wake County Young Republicans, asking the board to waive outstanding penalties against the group.
Following a series of leadership changes that began in 2009, the Young Republicans failed to file a crucial document with the SBE certifying that they would raise and spend less than $1,000 per election cycle for three straight years, beginning in 2014. Without that document, the SBE requires groups to file regular financial reports to the state, which the Young Republicans weren’t doing, either. So the SBE began slapping the Young Republicans with fines, and in 2015 it deactivated the group—though the fines kept accruing.
By March 2018, when Martin wanted to relaunch the Young Republicans, the group owed the SBE $5,250. But it had just $125.97 in its bank account, according to records it provided to the SBE.
Pleading poverty, the Young Republicans submitted three years of bank statements to the SBE. That was enough to convince the board to reactive the group last March. But more than a year later, the SBE has yet to hear the Young Republicans’ appeal to waive the fines.
In fact, there’s not even a hearing date.
The Young Republicans aren’t alone. The SBE—which was inactive for most of 2018 during a dispute over its makeup—is facing a backlog of similar cases, though no one’s sure how deep it goes.
“It had been about three years since the board had been approached to look at fines that way,” says SBE chairman Robert Cordle. “I don’t know the exact backlog, but it’s big.”
An SBE staffer told the INDY that twenty-seven appeals have been filed so far this year, but it’s unclear how many earlier appeals are still pending.
After Governor Cooper’s election in 2016, Republicans changed the SBE’s composition and stripped Cooper’s power to appoint the board’s majority. Cooper sued and ultimately prevailed, but the SBE was vacant from June 2017 to March 2018.
For small political committees like the Young Republicans, the bureaucratic labyrinth can be difficult to navigate, says Shaun Pollenz, treasurer for the Young Democrats of Wake County.
After the filing requirements switched from semi-annual to quarterly in 2018, Pollenz says he also failed to file two financial reports and accrued $950 in fines before being notified by the SBE of his mistake three months later, when the second wave of fines was already underway.
“These fines will take approximately one-third of our remaining funds and prevent us from finishing our work for the year without our members opening their very young and very empty wallets,” Pollenz wrote in his appeal to the board.
While $350 in fees were ultimately waived “for good cause,” according to a letter from SBE deputy director Amy Strange, Pollenz says he never got the letter, which is marked as “undeliverable” on the SBE website.
“The [SBE] needs to get its life together and stop making it so difficult to be involved in the political process,” Pollenz says.
Gerry Cohen, who serves on the Wake County Board of Elections, says fines like the ones leveled against the Young Republicans can be especially onerous for small political groups.
“A lot of especially small organizations just can’t get it together to follow the law, especially ones that are volunteer organizations and have a budget that consists of funding dinners for their members at meetings,” Cohen says. “There’s a lot of appeals pending before the state board, and a lot of it got held up while there was no board for a long time.”
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at email@example.com.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.