Black Democrats Group Says Its Financial Paperwork Is In Order

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The treasurer for a group of black elected Democrats said Wednesday the group has the necessary paperwork to show how it spent $117,000 that is being questioned by election officials.

According to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, campaign finance reports do not include receipts to show how the Black Elected Democrats of Cleveland Ohio spent the money, which came from the Ohio Democratic Party to get voters to the polls for the 2000 presidential election.

The group is headed by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, who serves as BEDCO's treasurer, acknowledged a report in The Plain Dealer that the group filed its campaign finance reports months after they were due.

He said he filed a complaint against his group with the Ohio Elections Commission on Tuesday as a way to get the problem on the record and to fend off other complaints.

But Jones said he believes the tardy reports include all the necessary documentation.

Elections Commission Executive Director Philip Richter said Wednesday the group could face fines of up to $100 per day for each late report. Some of the reports are as much as 1½ years late. But Richter said BEDCO may escape the harshest penalties.

"Normally we reserve the imposing of extreme fines for more severe repeat offenders," he said.

The elections board will send a letter to BEDCO in the next few days asking the group to provide detailed receipts for the expenditures, said spokesman John Stilliana.

"We'll give them three weeks to respond," he said Wednesday. "If they come up with the receipts, then the reports will be satisfactory."

Jones said he has additional paperwork to document the group's spending, but BEDCO was not required to file it.

"We firmly believe that we filed what the law requires," he said.

Nevertheless, Jones said he will turn over whatever other information the elections board wants.

Jones said he believes the committee is required only to show the disbursement of the funds, which it did in the form of canceled checks to several local elected official. Among the BEDCO members who received money were state Sen. C.J. Prentiss, who accepted three checks totaling about $17,000; and state Reps. Shirley Smith and Claudette Woodard, who each received about $15,000, the newspaper reported.

The money was meant for organizing workers to knock on doors, make phone calls and pass out election fliers on campaign day.

Those individuals would be responsible for providing details of how the money was spent, Jones said.

Prentiss, Smith and Woodard did not return calls to their offices requesting comment Wednesday.

Jones takes responsibility for the late reports.

An individual's political campaign is notified by the state when reports are due, he said. "I found out to my chagrin and too late that doesn't apply to political action committees."

Tubbs Jones said Wednesday she is confident that her group is guilty only of tardy filing and that the question about receipts can be resolved.

"Of course I'm not happy to be tangled up in something like this," Jones said, "but I am certain the money was used for the purposes that it was given."

Former U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes formed BEDCO in 1991 to promote black elected officials. The group organizes voters around political issues and raises money for candidates, Tubbs Jones said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)