Campaign finance reports lagging

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 5, 2004

DEMOPOLIS – Candidates for mayor and city council will get their first chance to square off with the public tonight at 6:15 p.m. in the Demopolis Civic Center as the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce.

The event will allow each mayoral and city council member time to address the public, and provide a structured format for them field questions from the audience.

“It’s unusual for us to have this number of mayor candidates in our city, and it’s a great opportunity for the citizens of Demopolis to meet some of the candidates that they may not be as familiar with as others,” Chamber President Jay Shows said.

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Shows said the only candidate who has said he would not be able to attend is Ben Sherrod, who is out of town. Sherrod has provided the Chamber a videotaped address that will be played during the forum.

The forum, as well as a second forum on Aug. 12 hosted by The Demopolis Times and WAKA CBS 8, hopes to address the concerns voters have for the candidates.

One such concern is over campaign finance reporting.

Municipal candidates are required by the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act to file statements regarding principal campaign committees, campaign donations and expenditures if those expenditures and donations exceeds a $1,000 threshold.

Probate Judge Cindy Neilson receives and files those reports.

Two candidates for Demopolis mayor have yet to file any of the required reports: Sherrod and Mitchell Congress. Candidates Cecil Williamson on July 9 filed each of the initial campaign reports required by law as had Mike Grayson. Stephen Gutshall

and Ed Key had filed only an appointment of principal campaign committee form with the probate office.

City Clerk Vickie Taylor, who is the city’s election manager, said an additional report was also required by law – a statement of economic interest which is filed with the state Ethics Commission.

Each of the candidates for the municipal election had complied with that requirement, she said.

“I asked each of the candidates to fill out the ethics statement when they qualified and place it in a sealed envelope I provided,” she said. “Then I sent those to the state. Everybody was cooperative in this process.”

As for campaign finance reporting, Neilson said failure to file the forms carries stiff penalties, but that the outcome of actual court cases had not resulted in a winning candidate being forced out of office.

“The law states that there are sanctions, but some have gone to court and been fined but not forced to forfeit the election,” she said.

In her reports, Williamson lists Carolyn S. Cowling as chairman of her committee with Dashiell P. McKay, Winston Asmar Muhammad and Robert W. Williamson as committee members. Her expenses reported through July 8 totaled $2,068.54 and her contributions were $2,150, and all came from private citizens.

Grayson reported campaign contributions of $75 from two individuals and no expenditures on his report filed July 14 and designated himself as the sole committee member.

All but two council candidates – Melvin Yelverton and Charles E. Jones – had filed reports in the probate office.