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Battaglia, campaign treasurer call errors unintentional

| Friday, July 26, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

KITTANNING – Armstrong County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Battaglia and Andrew Evans, his campaign committee treasurer, told a visiting judge in an audit hearing Thursday that neither had read the law concerning campaign finance, nor could they recall precise details about donations being called into question in Battaglia's 2011 election campaign finance report.

After hearing arguments and testimony at the Armstrong County Courthouse, Westmoreland County Senior Judge William J. Ober said he would defer making his decision until he had time to review the court transcript.

Attorney Jesse Daniel, of the Serene Law firm in Indiana, is representing the Friends of Dave Battaglia campaign committee.

Leechburg attorney Charles Pascal is representing the petitioners in the case. They are Tanya Gladysiewski, of Ford City, and Randy Cloak, David Wolfe, David Jack, Sherry Piccola and Richard Depner, all of Kittanning.

The civil case alleges that $7,800 (made up of two separate cash deposits of $1,500 and $800 and three separate checks totaling $5,500) in campaign contributions was improperly recorded during Battaglia's campaign with discrepancies remaining unresolved in both the initial Oct. 28, 2011 finance report and an amended report filed on Nov. 4, 2011.

The $5,500 came from checks received from Timothy R. and Kimberly J. Brown, who contributed $2,500; Malinda R. and Matthew J. Oesterling, who contributed $2,500; and Charles and Kristen Echnoz, who contributed $500.

Malinda Oesterling testified she was and is chairwoman of the Friends of Dave Battaglia campaign committee. Kimberly Brown is her sister. She acknowledged that she made out a personal check to Friends of Dave Battaglia dated Sept. 21, 2011.

The full sum of $7,800 was filed in the initial campaign report as an anonymous contribution, but after County Elections Director Wendy Buzard told Evans and Battaglia it was illegal to list an amount of more than $50 as anonymous, the amount was moved from the $250 and above category to the $50 or less category in an amended report.

“I never intended to violate the law,” said Battaglia, when he took the stand.

Evans claimed that he thought his job as treasurer was about bookkeeping and keeping track of expenditures and not about keeping scrupulous accounts of the names of contributors.

Battaglia claimed that he relied on Evans to keep track of what was required under campaign finance law.

However, both Battaglia and Evans admitted in court that they did not read the booklet provided by the board of elections on campaign expense reporting law.

Evans said that on a couple of occasions Battaglia brought him cash contributions which Evans entered into a software program under anonymous.

“I was unaware that there was a duty to record all names associated with deposits,” said Evans, and went on to describe his actions as “innocent but careless.”

Pascal asked Battaglia about the $5,500 which was deposited in the campaign account on Sept. 22, 2011.

Battaglia testified that although he didn't recall specifics about depositing that sum, he must have been the one to do it since the only two other people who could have deposited it were Evans or Evans' wife, Karen.

Andrew and Karen Evans were both out of town when the deposit was made and Battaglia said he did not provide them with copies of the checks when they returned.

“I thought they'd call the bank if they had any questions,” said Battaglia.

When it comes to the question of whether or not the public was harmed through the alleged discrepancies, Daniel said in his closing remarks, the court should consider the greater community and not how those few individuals who came to the courthouse to look at the campaign reports were affected.

Pascal argued, however, that the purpose of the election reporting law is to disclose to the public who is funding the campaign during the election cycle.

“The public was not given the benefit of the law,” said Pascal.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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