Splitting Legal Hairs
By Alex Saitta
July 9, 2012
The state law has long stated a candidate has to submit his statement of economic interest form at the “same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy”. Having entered the electronic age, a law was added a couple of years ago requiring the statement of economic interest form to be filed on-line.
When the law was added to, the first law was not modified, so the two requirements are not in synch. This has made it difficult to satisfy these different parts of the law when filing to be a candidate, in particular, when filing to be a challenger. Incumbents are not affected by these requirements when filing for office.
Here is the long standing law:
SECTION 8-13-1356. Filing of statement of economic interests by candidates for public office. (A) This section does not apply to a public official who has a current disclosure statement on file with the appropriate supervisory office pursuant to Sections 8-13-1110 or 8-13-1140. (B) A candidate must file a statement of economic interests for the preceding calendar year at the same time and with the same official with whom the candidate files a declaration of candidacy or petition for nomination.
Here is the addition:
SECTION 8-13-365. Electronic filing system for disclosures and reports; public accessibility. A) The commission shall establish a system of electronic filing for all disclosures and reports required pursuant to Chapter 13, Title 8 and Chapter 17, Title 2 from all persons and entities subject to its jurisdiction. These disclosures and reports must be filed using an Internet based filing system as prescribed by the commission.
The only way for a candidate to satisfy these two parts of the law is to first file his statement of economic interest on-line, print a copy and then file that same form a second time when he physically files to be a candidate and submits his form to be on the ballot.
Naturally, most challengers asked themselves, why file the statement of economic interest form a second time? As a result, some did not. Those who later realized the broken law required them to file that statement, re-filed their statement a few days later, but not at the “same time” they submitted their declaration of candidacy as the first law requires.
At the “same time” is the legal technically or phrase in the first law that is being exploited here.
Republican BR Skelton is suing fellow Republican Ed Harris, his county Republican Party, his state Republican Party and other officials. While Ed Harris filed his statement of economic interest on-line and filed it a second time when he filed to be a candidate, Skelton claims Harris did not file his statement of economic interest the second time at the “same time” he filed to be a candidate on the ballot.
Mr. Skelton may prevail because of this legal technically, but to me Mr. Skelton is painfully splitting legal hairs to win an election he lost fair and square to Harris on June 12.
Not only that, this lawsuit puts an even worse taste in the mouth of voters who are already upset so many challengers were thrown off the June 12 ballot. This lawsuit shows just how far (too far) some incumbents will go to hold on to power because they feel entitled to a position, even when the voters have voted them out.
The law as it stands now is illogical and convoluted, because it requires the statement of economic interest form to be filed twice. Additionally, the law only requires challengers to file that form twice, so only challengers were singled out.
A bill was introduced in the state Senate to put those candidates back on the ballot but it was voted down, mostly by democrats and a couple of republicans.
I understand the legislature didn't think this law through, and this situation was created by accident. However, it is no accident that many legislators then used this technically in the law to keep challengers off the ballot. The worst example of this, in my opinion, is the lawsuit filed by BR Skelton against Ed Harris. He used this technically to sue his own county GOP and state party and fellow Republican Harris to reverse an election Harris won at the ballot box.
While no one Republican in the state legislature is to blame for this, Republicans as a whole will shoulder must of the blame because it started with a law they passed, and all this is happening under their watch.