SPRINGFIELD — Jerry Fernandez may be taking another shot at getting his governing body seat back, but there is a New Jersey Election Law Commission complaint hanging over his head from his failed attempt at a seat in 2008 that includes 13 counts for not handling campaign contributions or expenditures correctly.
According to the ELEC complaint filed April 26 against Fernandez, the 13 counts are serious and include failing, neglecting or omitting to file reports in the manner prescribed by law. But make no mistakes; penalties for these violations are stiff.
According to the complaint, Fernandez could have fines levied as high as $6,800 for each of the 13. But the candidate is given an opportunity for a hearing where he would be able to present evidence to refute the complaint claims. Fernandez, though, had to file a written answer within 20 days, or be in default. In that case, ELEC could enter a final decision without Fernandez involved, as well as penalties. But it remained unknown last week whether the former governing body member even filed for a hearing.
In the complaint, the commission alleged that although Fernandez notified ELEC in 2008 that he established and maintained a campaign depository at the Kearny Federal Savings in Harrison, he failed to certify deposits or filed on the wrong form, including a 29-day pre-election report. He also failed to certify whether information regarding his campaign treasurer was correct and in one instance filed a campaign certification 637 days late.
Other infractions cited by ELEC included that Fernandez failed to certify the correctness of an Oct. 23, 2008 29-pre-election report tallying $6,290 from contributors. In addition to the report not being filed with the correct information, it was also 17 days late.
In other counts, Fernandez made expenditures totaling $1,037.33 from his account, but failed to report this on his 29-day pre-election report. As of the April 26, 2013, complaint date, ELEC pointed out that the candidate had yet to file the right paperwork in this instance. He did the same in many of the other counts, including an 11-day pre-election campaign expenditure of $4,255.18.
“The respondent candidate violated and continues to violate as of the date of the complaint, by failing to certify as correct and report expenditure information,” the complaint said.
Other counts included not filing a post election report until 85 days after the filing date. This involved the transfer of $2503.19 on July 13, 2009, from his campaign account to the “Fernandez and Krauss for Township Committee” account. The candidate failed to file this report until Oct. 8, 2009, 85 days after it was, by law, supposed to be filed.
Last week in an interview, Fernandez was initially evasive about the complaint, but did admit that “there were mistakes made.”
“You have to understand I was a novice running for the first time and handling my own stuff. Anything that wasn’t filed or filed wrong was completely innocent on my part,” the candidate said, adding “I can account for every penny.” Fernandez also said he was not trying to avoid the issue, but the violations were in 2008.
“I’d be the first to admit I didn’t do things right,” he added, pointing out “it isn’t a major crime.”
When asked if he was going to have a hearing, Fernandez said he did not know, and that his attorney was handling the matter.
Running for a political seat in New Jersey can be complicated, but according to ELEC Deputy Director Joseph Donahue, his agency provides enough help and guidance so candidates can be educated in election laws. In fact, he said his office fields calls all day long from candidates seeking information so they do not break the law.
“We even have training for candidates so they know how to file the required forms,” the deputy director explained in a telephone interview last week, adding “we give candidates all the help they need.”
Although Donahue was not able to comment on Fernandez’s case directly, he explained that the process of penalizing violators is not set in stone.
“There is no set time period. It depends on the attorney handling the case, but at some point they will decide to wrap it up,” the deputy director said. At this point, a final decision will be handed down and if it is ignored, we fill put out a final complaint.
“We have the discretion to say ‘enough time has gone by,’ they have had enough time to cooperate,” Donahue explained.
But do not discount what the ELEC will do if fines are not paid.
“We can legally slap a lien on people’s homes for these penalties,” the deputy director said, but added the ELEC does have an important purpose.
“Our main purpose is disclosure. We are not just here to punish people,” he added.
Fernandez lost his most recent re-election bid after a count of the provisional ballots. Unofficial tallies on the night of the 2012 general election had Fernandez winning by a small margin, but following the provisional ballot count, Fernandez lost by five votes. He ultimately challenged the election, but only gained two votes and still lost to Margaret Bandrowski by three votes, giving the Democrats a super majority in the township.