Alabama Secretary of State questions Alabama Ethics Commission vote on campaign finance penalties

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is calling out the Ethics Commission and questioning its decision to waive fines for violations of the state's campaign finance law. The fines were for late filing of campaign finance reports.

Under Alabama law, candidates and political action committees are required to report who contributes and how that money is spent.

Merrill is upset because every single fine for 2018 election violations was overturned by the Ethics Commission.

"We are supposed to have laws that are supposed to be followed. We are supposed to be adhering to the law. The spirit and the letter of the law," Merrill said.

In 2015, the Alabama legislature passed a law requiring all county candidate and political action committees to file campaign finance reports with the Alabama Secretary of State's office. The law also gave the Secretary of State's Office the ability to issue civil fines for those who violated the law. The Alabama Ethics Commission has voted to overturn all of the fines that were appealed.

"If you're going to waive all of them regardless of what occurs, why should anybody even file in the first place," asked Merrill.

Merrill said the people of Alabama should be furious with the Ethics Commission's decision.

"The Ethics Commission is looking at those penalties and saying, 'Nah we just don't think they knew what they were doing, so we're going to waive it,'" said Merrill.

"The FCPA gives the ethics commission the duty really to assess each case on an individual basis and set aside the fine for good cause," said Thomas Albritton, the Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director.

Albritton says the commissioners believe there was probable cause.

"Our commissioners reviewed those files and discussed them in detail before our meeting. So they reviewed every one of them as they have for every meeting," said Albritton.

"The bottom line is if they don't like the law they need to go to the legislature and they need to change the law. If they don't have a problem with the law they need to enforce the law or you set the law aside. Those are the two options. Currently, they are making their own law at the Alabama Ethics Commission and that's not acceptable to the people of Alabama," said Merrill.

Merrill said what's particularly concerning is that some of the candidates and PACs have several penalties that were overturned. The Ethics Commission said that it's only because the new is new and that next election cycle there will be less leniency.