Feb. 27, 2004 – Three major changes in the territory's Campaign Contributions Law were outlined this week at workshops conducted by the Election System of the Virgin Islands on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
According to John Abramson Jr., supervisor of elections, they are:
– The $500 cap on the late-filing fee has been removed.
– The Election System will not accept any petitions or other filings for public office if the candidate owes any outstanding fees or late penalties.
– The cap on total payments that can be paid out of a candidate's petty cash fund has been increased to $500 from $300.
The St. Thomas workshop, which initially had been scheduled for Thursday, was held on Friday at the Election System offices on Crystal Gade. The St. Croix workshop took place on Wednesday at the system offices in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center Annex.
Regarding the late-filing fee, Abramson told those attending Friday's workshop that in the past, candidates who submitted reports and statements of expenditures and contributions after deadlines were charged $10 for each day or part of a day that the material was late, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. However, the maximum fee that could be imposed for any single report was $500. The cap has now been removed.
"We believe by putting a cap, some people had taken advantage of that," Abramson said. "Now we're going to require them to just pay."
The late filing of documents by candidates for public office has been a recurring problem until now, Abramson said, adding that he hopes the change in law will discourage the practice.
While the petty cash limit has been increased, candidates cannot pay any bill exceeding $75 with petty cash, and they must submit receipts showing how all petty cash is spent.
"We're going to have strict enforcement this year," Abramson said, adding that too many candidates in past campaigns have disregarded the campaign laws.
At Friday's workshop, Abramson also went over other rules that he intends to enforce this year. He reminded the attendees that it is unlawful for candidates and members of their political committees to spend money without it "passing through the hands of the treasurer." Money has been expended in the past with no record of it by the campaign treasurer, he said.
Abramson also said that anonymous donations cannot be used for any "political purpose" but are to be paid to the V.I. government through the Office of the Supervisor of Elections.
He also told the workshop attendees that they should not solicit the aid of Election System staff for their political campaigns. "No one in our organization is going to help you, period," he said. "Our organization is not involved in politics; we administer politics."
Attending the St. Thomas workshop were representatives of Sens. Louis Hill and Roosevelt David, one private citizen and several members of the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections.
Asked about the small turnout, Abramson said the workshop was "really for new people, to acquaint them with the laws."
But he added that any candidates who didn't participate, whether they are now in office or not, "will be held to the same standards."
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