Lunt one of several candidates fined for not filing campaign reports
Former Donora mayoral hopeful John Lunt isn't the only candidate in the 2013 municipal elections to be fined for failure to file campaign finance reports.
But he is the only one who faced possible prosecution after Washington County elections officials sent him several certified letters seeking proper paperwork.
Lunt, however, pleaded ignorance of the elections statute.
And Lunt's campaign finance report indicates his failed write-in campaign cost him nearly as much as he would have earned in salary during a four-year term.
E. Wesley Parry III, the county's assistant director of elections, confirmed that former Charleroi Mayor Nancy Ellis was fined $40 in May and $20 in October for filing her reports two days late at the approach of the primary election and one day late just before the general election.
In addition, Sheriff Samuel Romano's campaign was fined $170 in the fall. He brought his paperwork to the county office and admitted being late.
Parry said the elections office does not actively police the filing of reports.
“We take it on face value that you file in conjunction with the statute,” Parry said.
Parry said the county generally discovers forms are late when candidates file them – or opponents point out violations.
But Parry said county officials spoke with Lunt by telephone numerous times in the fall about filing reports.
“He was flippant and glib about the idea,” Parry said. “He said, ‘I'll just pay the fine.' I think he was under the impression he could pay the fine and not file the report.”
Parry said the elections office sent Lunt registered letters related to the reports.
The first registered letter indicated that if Lunt did not file the form, the elections office might turn the matter over to the district attorney's office.
A second registered letter indicated the matter would be turned over to prosecutors if Lunt did not meet a Jan. 3 deadline. Lunt filed the form and paid $490 in fines that day.
One such letter was addressed to 801 Meldon Ave., Donora – the home mailing address Lunt listed on the Candidates Affidavit of Office and Identification he filed with the elections office. He also listed that address on the Affidavit of Residency filed with Donora borough.
It was returned to the county Jan. 2 stamped: “Return to sender. Unclaimed. Unable to Forward.”
“He was showing intent to purposely circumvent the system,” Parry said of Lunt.
At the time, Lunt said he learned of the delinquent filing date when contacted by The Valley Independent last week.
Lunt acknowledged that he told elections officials he “would just pay the fine.”
Lunt claimed he believed that once he accrued the maximum fine for failure to meet the Oct. 25 deadline, he had no reason to file the report. Lunt said he was unaware he would face a second maximum fine of $250 for missing a second deadline last month.
Lunt said county officials led him to believe that once he reached the initial maximum fine, filing the ethics form was unnecessary.
According to his campaign finance report, Lunt had a campaign war chest of $8,202.70 — all self-financed. He spent $6,794.94 on the campaign for such items as printing, signs, campaign shirts, and hall rental and food for rallies.
According to state code, the mayor of Donora can earn up to $1,850 annually or $7,400 for a four-year term. Mayor John Lignelli has accepted just $1,200 annually for several years, according to borough records.
Asked why he would spend the equivalent of the salary for a full mayoral term to seek the post, Lunt said, “Me running for mayor was not about money, it was about me helping the town.”
Lunt said several people offered to contribute to his campaign, but he chose to self-fund his campaign.
He said some of the items purchased for his mayoral campaign can be used for his next campaign. He has vowed to run for council in 2015.
“The initial expenses were more than I wanted to spend, but I felt it was worth it,” Lunt said.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.