2006 Regular Session
To: Judiciary, Division A
By: Senator(s) Harden
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTION 23-15-813, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO REMOVE THE PROVISION IN THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE LAWS WHICH PROHIBITS THE FAILURE OF A CANDIDATE OR POLITICAL COMMITTEE TO RECEIVE NOTICE OF THE FAILURE TO TIMELY FILE A CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE REPORT TO BE CONSIDERED AS A MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCE IN THE ASSESSMENT OF ANY CIVIL PENALTY; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 23-15-813, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
23-15-813. (a) In addition to any other penalty permitted by law, the Secretary of State shall require any candidate or political committee, as identified in Section 23-15-805(a), and any other political committee registered with the Secretary of State, who fails to file a campaign finance disclosure report as required under Sections 23-15-801 through 23-15-813, or Sections 23-17-47 through 23-17-53, or who shall file a report which fails to substantially comply with the requirements of Sections 23-15-801 through 23-15-813, or Sections 23-17-47 through 23-17-53, to be assessed a civil penalty as follows:
(i) Within five (5) calendar days after any deadline for filing a report pursuant to Sections 23-15-801 through 23-15-813, or Sections 23-17-47 through 23-17-53, the Secretary of State shall compile a list of those candidates and political committees who have failed to file a report. The Secretary of State shall provide each candidate or political committee, who has failed to file a report, notice of the failure by first-class mail.
(ii) Beginning with the tenth calendar day after which any report shall be due, the Secretary of State shall assess the delinquent candidate and political committee a civil penalty of Fifty Dollars ($50.00) for each day or part of any day until a valid report is delivered to the Secretary of State, up to a maximum of ten (10) days. However, in the discretion of the Secretary of State, the assessing of the fine may be waived in whole or in part if the Secretary of State determines that unforeseeable mitigating circumstances, such as the health of the candidate, interfered with timely filing of a report. * * *
(iii) Filing of the required report and payment of the fine within ten (10) calendar days of notice by the Secretary of State that a required statement has not been filed, constitutes compliance with Sections 23-15-801 through 23-15-813, or Sections 23-17-47 through 23-17-53.
(iv) Payment of the fine without filing the required report does not in any way excuse or exempt any person required to file from the filing requirements of Sections 23-15-801 through 23-15-813, and Sections 23-17-47 through 23-17-53.
(v) If any candidate or political committee is assessed a civil penalty, and the penalty is not subsequently waived by the Secretary of State, the candidate or political committee shall pay the fine to the Secretary of State within ninety (90) days of the date of the assessment of the fine. If, after one hundred twenty (120) days of the assessment of the fine the payment for the entire amount of the assessed fine has not been received by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State shall notify the Attorney General of the delinquency, and the Attorney General shall file, where necessary, a suit to compel payment of the civil penalty.
(b) (i) Upon the sworn application, made within sixty (60) calendar days of the date upon which the required report is due, of a candidate or political committee against whom a civil penalty has been assessed pursuant to paragraph (a), the Secretary of State shall forward the application to the State Board of Election Commissioners. The State Board of Election Commissioners shall appoint one or more hearing officers who shall be former chancellors, circuit court judges, judges of the Court of Appeals or justices of the Supreme Court, and who shall conduct hearings held pursuant to this article. The hearing officer shall fix a time and place for a hearing and shall cause a written notice specifying the civil penalties that have been assessed against the candidate or political committee and notice of the time and place of the hearing to be served upon the candidate or political committee at least twenty (20) calendar days before the hearing date. The notice may be served by mailing a copy thereof by certified mail, postage prepaid, to the last known business address of the candidate or political committee.
(ii) The hearing officer may issue subpoenas for the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers at the hearing. Process issued by the hearing officer shall extend to all parts of the state and shall be served by any person designated by the hearing officer for the service.
(iii) The candidate or political committee has the right to appear either personally, by counsel or both, to produce witnesses or evidence in his behalf, to cross-examine witnesses and to have subpoenas issued by the hearing officer.
(iv) At the hearing, the hearing officer shall administer oaths as may be necessary for the proper conduct of the hearing. All hearings shall be conducted by the hearing officer, who shall not be bound by strict rules of procedure or by the laws of evidence in the conduct of the proceedings, but the determination shall be based upon sufficient evidence to sustain it. The scope of review at the hearing shall be limited to making a determination of whether failure to file a required report was due to an unforeseeable mitigating circumstance.
(v) Where, in any proceeding before the hearing officer, any witness fails or refuses to attend upon a subpoena issued by the commission, refuses to testify, or refuses to produce any books and papers the production of which is called for by a subpoena, the attendance of the witness, the giving of his testimony or the production of the books and papers shall be enforced by any court of competent jurisdiction of this state in the manner provided for the enforcement of attendance and testimony of witnesses in civil cases in the courts of this state.
(vi) Within fifteen (15) calendar days after conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer shall reduce his or her decision to writing and forward an attested true copy of the decision to the last known business address of the candidate or political committee by way of United States first-class, certified mail, postage prepaid.
(c) (i) The right to appeal from the decision of the hearing officer in an administrative hearing concerning the assessment of civil penalties authorized pursuant to this section is granted. The appeal shall be to the Circuit Court of Hinds County and shall include a verbatim transcript of the testimony at the hearing. The appeal shall be taken within thirty (30) calendar days after notice of the decision of the commission following an administrative hearing. The appeal shall be perfected upon filing notice of the appeal and by the prepayment of all costs, including the cost of the preparation of the record of the proceedings by the hearing officer, and the filing of a bond in the sum of Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00), conditioned that if the decision of the hearing officer be affirmed by the court, the candidate or political committee will pay the costs of the appeal and the action in court. If the decision is reversed by the court, the Secretary of State will pay the costs of the appeal and the action in court.
(ii) If there is an appeal, the appeal shall act as a supersedeas. The court shall dispose of the appeal and enter its decision promptly. The hearing on the appeal may be tried in vacation, in the court's discretion. The scope of review of the court shall be limited to a review of the record made before the hearing officer to determine if the action of the hearing officer is unlawful for the reason that it was 1. not supported by substantial evidence, 2. arbitrary or capricious, 3. beyond the power of the hearing officer to make, or 4. in violation of some statutory or constitutional right of the appellant. The decision of the court may be appealed to the Supreme Court in the manner provided by law.
(d) If, after forty-five (45) calendar days of the date of the administrative hearing procedure set forth in paragraph (b), the candidate or political committee identified in paragraph (a) of this section fails to pay the monetary civil penalty imposed by the hearing officer, the Secretary of State shall notify the Attorney General of the delinquency. The Attorney General shall investigate the offense in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, and where necessary, file suit to compel payment of the unpaid civil penalty.
(e) If, after twenty (20) calendar days of the date upon which a campaign finance disclosure report is due, a candidate or political committee identified in paragraph (a) of this section shall not have filed a valid report with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State shall notify the Attorney General of those candidates and political committees who have not filed a valid report, and the Attorney General shall thereupon prosecute the delinquent candidates and political committees.
SECTION 2. The Attorney General of the State of Mississippi shall submit this act, immediately upon approval by the Governor, or upon approval by the Legislature subsequent to a veto, to the Attorney General of the United States or to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in accordance with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended and extended.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after the date it is effectuated under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended and extended.