Monday, January 26, 2004

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a Democratic presidential candidate, has been fined $5,500 by the Federal Election Commission for his failure last year to file on time a 2002 year-end report and an April quarterly financial report.

Mr. Sharpton has agreed to the fine and was given 30 days from Jan. 21 to pay, FEC records indicate.

The FEC issued the sanction in response to a complaint filed by the conservative National Legal and Policy Center. The complaint cited an April 18, 2003, article in The Washington Times in which Mr. Sharpton denied he was a candidate or needed to file a financial report.

The six-page agreement Mr. Sharpton signed with the FEC says he formally embarked on his campaign when, among other events, in his 2002 book, “Al on America,” he stated several times that he was running for president.

The agreement noted that “Sharpton became a candidate no later than October 2002, when he made statements including in his book referring to himself as a candidate for president. …”

Mr. Sharpton did file papers with the FEC in January 2003 registering his exploratory committee. But in the filing, the word “campaign” is crossed out from the phrase “principal campaign committee” and replaced with the word “exploratory.”

“We are in the late stages of the exploratory phase,” Mr. Sharpton said in The Times story. “We will do whatever is required when we make an official announcement. …”

His committee filed the 2002 year-end report, due Jan. 31, 2003, on April 29. The 2003 April quarterly report, due April 15, also was filed April 29.

Mr. Sharpton’s campaign did not return calls yesterday.

The complaint was filed April 18, 2003. Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, said the complaint had a simple basis: “Our point was that this is about as basic a part of election law as you can get — a declaration of candidacy and a quarterly report.

“These are the most fundamental part of election law and if he can’t obey that law, then who knows what will happen if it gets to something more complicated,” Mr. Boehm said.

Mr. Sharpton’s personal financial records were audited last year by the Internal Revenue Service. There has been no action from that audit.

The FEC fine is a minor assessment compared with sanctions previously handed down by the commission, some of which reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most FEC investigations are spurred by complaints from political parties and activist groups.

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