By Torey Van Oot
Published: Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 10A

Campaign finance violators who missed financial disclosure deadlines have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in late fines – money that would go to the state’s cash-strapped general fund.

Hundreds of donors and campaign committees had failed to pay a total of $888,730 in late fines as of mid-November, according to records obtained by The Bee from the secretary of state’s office.

A handful of state lawmakers are among the debtors who recently received a final warning letter from the secretary of state’s office, which issues and enforces the late fines.

Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta was fined more than $7,000 for late filings in his 2006 and 2007 Assembly accounts. Hollingsworth spokesman Hector Barajas said the senator’s campaign treasurer believes the forms were filed correctly and is following up on the matter.

Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena,was fined $650 for missing contribution report deadlines and Democratic Rep. John Garamendi accrued $500 in fines for late submissions of hard copies of electronic filings for his lieutenant governor re-election fund.

Representatives for both lawmakers contacted the secretary of state on Friday after a list of debtors was published online by The Bee and said they planned to pay the fines immediately, secretary of state spokeswoman Nicole Winger said.

The debts result from a $10 fine assessed for each day a campaign committee misses a deadline for filing financial disclosure forms.

“The California Political Reform Act and other laws since then were established to shed as much sunshine as possible on the campaign process,” Winger said. “Deadlines become particularly important right around an election day, when 24-hour filing requirements take effect.”

The fines for individual violations range from $10 to $21,250. In one case, a committee listed as late on multiple forms – the Sacramento County Democratic Central Committee – accumulated more than $104,000 in debt. The alleged failure to meet deadlines is also the subject of an investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

The minor fines were often the result of clerical errors that caused a form to be delivered a day or two late.

Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Clovis, was fined $20 for missing a deadline for reporting an in-kind contribution to his insurance commissioner campaign account. His campaign manager said the campaign wasn’t even aware of the contribution before the reporting deadline, and has since followed up with the secretary of state’s office to request a waiver.

But in other cases, violators with large outstanding fines have remained noncompliant for years. A slate mailer organization called Non-Partisan Candidate Evaluation Council has amassed more than $84,000 in fines. But officers from the organization, which stopped reporting activity in 2007, have not replied to notification letters.

“There are always some cases in which filers are completely nonresponsive, and that is a challenge for all of the entities involved, and it is a frustration for the secretary of state’s office, which wants to collect that money and get it into the state general fund,” Winger said.

She said limited staff resources and the fact that some contributor committees disband after an election cycle make it difficult to collect the cash owed. Turnover in campaign committee administration also can leave the secretary of state with outdated contact information – and no one to hold accountable for violations.

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