By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Despite prosecutors' protests that the law is too strong, there are some provisions in the law for civil action, such as in the case of illegal contributions. In those cases, the law says prosecutors can go after violators for three times the amount of the illegal contribution. Still, assistant secretary of state Sam Vagenas says officials would rather have the candidates return the money after the fact than try to punish them through the courts. There are other reasons campaign-finance prosecutions are given low priority. Most of the penalties are misdemeanors or low-level felonies, and the "concerned citizens" who report violations are often political opponents of the alleged violator. "Given the resources you have to investigate," says Tseffos, "do you want to spend loads of time being used as a political pawn?" What officials want is more power to do things out of court, such as setting up an "administrative hearing process" to punish offenders with civil fines. Through that process, anyone who violates a campaign-finance rule--misses a filing date, fails to report a contribution, et cetera--can be fined regardless of criminal intent. Like prosecuting a speeder, authorities wouldn't have to prove a driver knew what the speed limit was--only that he broke it.
"It's amazing how when you start talking about money, people act," says Vagenas. In January, a bill assigning civil fines to campaign-finance violations was introduced to the state Senate for the third year in a row. Under such a system, the First Assembly of God Church and the PAC to which it contributed could have at least been fined.