No fine for Hart on PAC report discrepancy

BOISE - The Idaho Secretary of State’s office says Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has supplied the missing information from his campaign finance filings for a PAC he formed this year called “North Idahoans for Liberty,” and it’s closed the case without fining Hart.

“Our main goal is disclosure, and we’ve been working with him to get it,” said Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state. “We use a penalty as more of a last resort than the first attention-getting device.”

Hart reported, in his post-primary election filing, that the PAC received $6,776.30 in contributions this year, spent $5,846.21, and had $930.09 left as of June 4. But the itemized schedules filed with those summary figures showed far less in contributions - just $3,468.09, including both cash and in-kind donations - though the expenditure figures matched up.

Hart’s write-in challenger, Hayden businessman Howard Griffiths, filed a complaint earlier this month over the ongoing discrepancy in the report, which was due two and a half months ago; he questioned how the PAC could have spent more than it raised.

Griffiths said Thursday that he was surprised at the outcome. “I don’t know why it takes this long to find something like this,” he said. “There’s definitely some arrogance there, I guess.”

In a letter that Hurst sent Thursday to Griffiths, notifying him that the case was being closed, Hurst wrote, “Thank you for taking the time to contact our office to point our irregularities in the campaign finance disclosure report.”

Hart, who didn’t return a reporter’s calls for comment, put on a “fundraising event” for the PAC, a dinner in May at the Coeur d’Alene Resort featuring Dick Heller, the plaintiff in a landmark court case over gun rights in the District of Columbia. He charged $50 per person and also held a fundraising auction.

According to the amended report, the PAC actually raised more than $7,500, but spent all but $237 of that. The list of cash donors swelled from just six to 20.

Political candidates or committees that fail to file reports or that falsify the data can face fines and even misdemeanor criminal prosecution; for a PAC, the fine can be up to $2,500. Late filings can bring fines of $50 per day.

Hart hasn’t said why he formed the PAC. If it was to raise money, it didn’t do so well, spending nearly all of what it raised. Most of the expenditures reported by the PAC appear to be for the dinner and auction items, including a $2,500 payment to the Coeur d’Alene Resort, though it also paid $999 to “Elect Vito 2010,” the campaign committee for Vito Barbieri, who, with Hart’s backing, defeated three other candidates in the GOP primary in May for an open House seat in Hart’s district.

Barbieri, who also donated $71 to North Idahoans for Liberty, is unopposed in the November election; the open seat was created by the retirement of longtime Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake.

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