Lack of Oversight Raises Concerns About Transparency and Accountability in Delaware Elections
Delaware elections officials have been granted the authority to investigate campaign finance violations, but a recent investigation has revealed that this oversight power has never been utilized. The state Department of Elections admitted to having “no records” of any probes conducted under this authority, leaving Delaware voters and taxpayers in a precarious position. Despite public acknowledgment of campaign finance issues by Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, the Elections Department has refrained from using its investigatory powers to ensure compliance with Delaware law. This lack of oversight raises concerns about transparency and accountability in Delaware elections.
Hall-Long’s Campaign Audit Raises Questions
The campaign of Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long recently announced the completion of an internal audit, which allegedly found “no wrongdoings or violations.” However, the campaign has refused to release the audit, instead claiming that amended campaign filings “fully convey” the results. This lack of transparency has led to questions about the nature of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans paid for by the campaign. Some speculate whether these payments went directly to Hall-Long’s husband and campaign treasurer, Dana Long. The absence of an independent review or investigation by the Department of Elections leaves voters and taxpayers relying solely on the campaign’s word.
Authority of Election Officials in Delaware
The authority and responsibilities of the Department of Elections and election commissioners are outlined in the State Code. According to Title 15, Section 302, election commissioners have the power to investigate potential violations of campaign finance laws. However, despite this authority, the Elections Department claims to have no records of any probes conducted under this provision. When questioned about these powers, department spokesperson Cathleen Hartsky-Carter initially stated that the State Code does not authorize the department to review or audit campaign finance reports. However, the department’s website acknowledges the commissioner’s duties to investigate violations of campaign finance laws.
Limited Use of Campaign Finance Enforcement Authority
The election commissioner in Delaware has issued only seven advisory opinions in the past 15 years. These opinions are prompted by questions from voters, political committees, and candidates regarding campaign finances and the election process. While the commissioner has the power to issue rulings and make determinations based on specific facts, the last time these powers were used was in 2018. In that instance, two advisory opinions found no violations of state campaign finance laws. The limited use of campaign finance enforcement authority raises questions about the effectiveness of oversight in Delaware elections.
Lack of Penalties and Oversight
One of the few powers that Delaware election commissioners have exercised is the ability to issue penalties for late campaign finance reports. However, even these instances have lacked teeth, with a recent law capping the daily citation at 100 days and allowing the election commissioner to negotiate settlements for outstanding fines. This revision of duties and penalties further undermines the accountability and transparency of the election process in Delaware.
The failure of Delaware elections officials to utilize their investigatory powers in campaign finance violations raises significant concerns about transparency and accountability in the state’s elections. The lack of oversight and the refusal to release the results of internal audits leave voters and taxpayers in the dark about potential violations of campaign finance laws. It is crucial for the Department of Elections to fulfill its duties and responsibilities in order to restore public trust and ensure fair and transparent elections in Delaware.