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2 fined for campaign finance violations

Both council members are cited for, among other things, incurring expenses without enough money in accounts.

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- City Council members Joe Chrietzberg and Ray Wallace have been fined $1,000 each for mishandling campaign finance reports during the 1999 election.

The fines were made public Thursday on the Florida Elections Commission Web site.

Chrietzberg was cited for incurring expenses for election material without having enough money in his campaign account and accepting a personal contribution of $500 to his own account two weeks after the election.

Florida statutes prohibit a candidate from incurring expenses without sufficient campaign funds on hand and forbid accepting contributions after being elected.

Wallace had been cited for certifying a campaign treasurer report that was incorrect or incomplete and incurring an expense without having enough money in his campaign.

His campaign treasurer, his wife, Lynn Wallace, prepared eight reports, all of which the Elections Commission said contained inaccurate reporting dates.

In one of them, Wallace reported a loan from himself. He also reported an expenditure for the same amount, $279.84. The election panel said the contribution was not deposited into his account and the expenditure was not made with a campaign check, as required.

Lynn Wallace told the Election Commission that she paid for campaign signs with a credit card after being advised by a printing company. The printer, she said, suggested she then lend the money to the campaign.

Had Wallace issued the payment from his campaign account, he would not have had enough money to cover the expense.

The discrepancies were reported by former Finance Director Helene Morris, whose office was the subject of various criticisms by Chrietzberg and Wallace and another council member, Mike Gudis.

Election Commission reports indicate that Morris was motivated to look into the campaign records in response to the criticism.

In a statement faxed to the Citrus Times, Chrietzberg explained the events that led to his fine, saying the "Commission treated me fairly, as it was errors on my part." He noted that he donated excess funds in his account, about $92, to the city Fire Department.

Chrietzberg said he opened a campaign account in the same bank as his personal account and that with the exception of one $50 contribution his campaign was self-funded.

"During the course of the campaign, I spent funds, obtained and paid invoices; however, I spent funds where such money was not immediately resting in the campaign account even after the election was over," he explained.

"After I obtained the invoices, I then moved funds from my personal account to my campaign account, and the delay in moving the funds was a violation of Florida Election Statutes causing the $1,000 fine."

In a previous letter to the Elections Commission, Chrietzberg took a more candid tone, saying the incident was careless and caused him "a great deal of personal embarrassment."

In a brief interview Thursday, Wallace said the errors were simply mistakes. He had told the panel that his wife had apparently made "some math mistakes, some adding and subtracting."

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