Overland Park Councilmember Scott Hamblin still owes $10K for campaign finance violations, as dispute with state ethics panel escalates

The Kansas Ethics Commission says Hamblin still owes more than $10,000 in fines stemming from mistakes made in campaign accounting from Hamblin's 2019 city council race, along with late penalties accrued through multiple missed deadlines. But Hamblin disputes the fines, likening the commission's efforts to collect to "extortion" and calling the proceedings a "kangaroo court." File image.

Overland Park city councilmember Scott Hamblin still owes the Kansas Ethics Commission over $10,000 for errors and omissions in the financial reports from his 2019 election campaign, according to state ethics officials.

The fines stem from mistakes made in campaign accounting, plus missed report deadlines by Hamblin and his campaign treasurer, Tara Brune, the state says.

The commission has declared its assessment final, but Hamblin has dug in his opposition to the penalties.

He has called the commission’s effort to collect the fines from him “extortion,” and the proceedings a “kangaroo court.” He vows to continue fighting the case, but says he will pay if he is eventually advised by a lawyer that it is the only way to continue arguing his case.

Not paying would also mean the Ward 6 councilmember could not be a candidate in 2023 for a second term.

Hamblin told the Post he has already received notice that the state will send the matter to collections.

Another option for the state would be prosecution through the district attorney’s office, but it’s extremely rare for the ethics commission to take that step, said Mark Skoglund, executive director of the state Governmental Ethics Commission.

Meanwhile, Hamblin said he hopes to get the district attorney’s office involved himself.

The prosecutor should investigate Hamblin’s allegations of perjury and conflicted interests of Skoglund, who is friends with various local Democrats, Hamblin said.

Hamblin also said he is preparing a complaint to go to Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez that he says should be forwarded to the district attorney.

“No doubt a crime has been committed and no doubt he’s liable in any type of civil proceedings,” he said of Skoglund.

However, Hamblin said filing a lawsuit would take too long and he’s had difficulty finding a lawyer.

The timeline

The months-long dispute originated early in 2020, when the state ethics office noted mistakes in Hamblin’s October 2019 report filed just before the election.

Campaigns that are not closed out soon after an election are required to continue filing reports at the beginning of each year, but none was filed from Hamblin in 2020 or 2021, according to the notifications on file with the county election office.

The ethics commission also sent another notice of errors in that October report, saying an $87.57 purchase of attire from Men’s Wearhouse was not an allowed campaign expense.

Hamblin or his treasurer also should have submitted an amended report that entered previously reported loans to himself, ethics officials said. He had the option of closing out reports on those loans by sending notice in writing that he had forgiven them, Skoglund said.

But deadlines passed and none of that happened, according to Skoglund.

State ethics rules give a candidate a 15-day grace period to file a missing report. After that, civil penalties begin to stack up at the rate of $10 a day, up to $300. Hamblin amassed $600 in civil penalties, with a like amount assessed to Brune.

That amount was separate from the fine itself, which the commission awarded in April of this year. The fine came to $5,000 total for Hamblin and $5,000 for Brune.

However, they each had the option of paying $1,000 within 30 days. Skoglund said the commission has not heard from Brune, but Hamblin has said he would be responsible for her fines.

Brune did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

More time passed. Hamblin had 30 days to ask for a second hearing, but missed that deadline by one day, Skoglund said.

Ethics commissioners decided in June to give Hamblin the option to ask to re-hear his case only if he filed the missing reports and paid. He met that requirement in July, paying $1,000 plus the $270 assessed for claiming the clothing as an expense.

By that point, some commissioners were questioning what the basis would be for a new hearing. Hamblin had missed several deadlines and was not present at the hearings to present his case.

“This is a scenario where he’s had many opportunities to fix this and did not. Now the extenuating circumstances are: this becomes an emergency for him because of the fine that was assessed by the commission and not for any other reason,” Skoglund told commissioners.

They agreed to look at his case again in August if he wrote out the rationale for another hearing.

Hamblin did that. But he was not at the August meeting either, and the nine-member commission unanimously denied his request for another hearing.

If Hamblin pays his treasurer’s fines, he will be liable for $10,470. He owes $4,600 if not.

Commissioners said Hamblin did not present a compelling reason for another hearing.

“If ever a guy doesn’t deserve a little reprieve it’s this guy,” one commissioner said.

Others said Hamblin could pursue an appeal through the Kansas Judicial Review Act, which reviews decisions made by state agencies. But the matter shouldn’t take up any more of the staff time, they said.

Hamblin cries foul

Hamblin, however, disputes the fairness of the proceedings and said he has contacted officials from the Kansas Secretary of State’s office to the state attorney general and county officials to no avail.

He maintains that he did not receive notifications of the hearings, or received them too late to comply with the state’s demands.

In one case, he said the commission could not produce a green card showing that a certified mail notice had been received.

In another, he said some mail addressed to him inexplicably turned up in Sharon Springs, a town in western Kansas which is a nearly six-hour drive away from Johnson County.

Hamblin has maintained that he was unaware of any ongoing problems before the state ethics board until he found his case mentioned in local media. He has suggested that reporters were tipped off.

Most egregious, Hamblin says, is that the ethics office officials stopped allowing him to contact staffers and commissioners about his case.

“No court in the United States should EVER deny the defendant the right to appear,” Hamblin wrote in an email. He pledged to pursue the legal implications of not being able to face his accuser.

“The most important relief is obviously my reputation,” he wrote in one email. “I’m advising for relief from the headlines. Therefore, I’d like a complete retraction of any accusation of misspent campaign funds, refusal to correct it and anything about missing a hearing.”

Skoglund insists the commission sent Hamblin numerous notifications by registered and first class mail.

It is true the one registered mail receipt was lost, he said, but that notification was backed up by other first-class mail that was not returned to sender. Emails were also sent explaining the commission’s decision, he said.

The commission fulfilled all the legal requirements of notification, Skoglund said.

Furthermore, the decision to limit Hamblin’s contact with ethics staff came after a June 4 phone call in which Hamblin became irate at the staff attorney and Skoglund.

“I do not allow anyone to treat my staff in such a way,” he said.

Emails Hamblin wrote to commissioners were passed along and discussed at the meetings, Skoglund added.

Missing a report deadline is a common mistake among candidates, Skoglund said. Fine hearings like the ones in this case are rare, though.

A fine hearing only happens after months of notices and warnings, including an error and omission notice, past due notice, failure to file notice, civil penalty maximum notice, a complaint, probable cause hearing notice and hearing notice.

The ethics commission overseeing campaign rules consists of nine members and no more than five can be from one political party. Two are appointed by the governor, two from Republican leadership, two from Democratic leadership, one from the Secretary of State’s office, one from the Attorney General and one from the Kansas Supreme Court.