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Despite years of unfiled reports and unpaid fines, NCSBE fails to take action against Julia Olson-Boseman

New Hanover County Chair Julia Olson-Boseman.
New Hanover County
New Hanover County Chair Julia Olson-Boseman.

With more than $2,000 in late fees and violations of campaign finance laws, Olson-Boseman’s campaign has not been shuttered as state law requires.

New Hanover County Commissioner Julia Olson-Boseman is facing thousands of dollars worth of fines issued by the North Carolina State Board of Elections for failing to file campaign finance reports for several years. Since 2019 she has failed to submit records documenting the financial activity of her campaign committee, for which she serves as treasurer.

North Carolina’s Campaign Finance Laws require candidates to disclose all contributions and expenditures. North Carolina laws also set source and contribution limits according to state law.

To date, Olson-Boseman has not paid the fines issued by the state. She has also failed to file appropriate paperwork to serve as her own treasurer and ignored repeated requests from county election officials to register for mandatory treasurer compliance training, according to the New Hanover County Board of Elections.

Asked about these lapses, Olson-Boseman said she was uncertain whether she would run again following her 2018 election — although she did not deactivate her campaign committee. Boseman also cited the death of her former treasurer.

Inactive campaigns are not required to file campaign finance reports until they receive a donation or make an expenditure. However, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE), candidates must continue filing reports if their campaign is active.

“A candidate may choose to keep their committee active after the election. An active committee must continue to file disclosure reports,” according to the NCSBE.

The failure to report these expenses and donations keeps the public in the dark as to how Olson-Boseman has spent the funds she received in donations over the past several years.

Olson-Boseman’s explanations for failing to comply with state campaign finance law aside, NCSBE has not taken action to terminate the active status of her campaign committee – or to collect the $2,300 in fines levied against her for reporting failures. Despite the clear language of the law saying the board should do just that.

Consequences for campaign violation noncompliance

Campaign finance reporting is crucial to ensuring transparency in the democratic process of electing representatives in our government. Mandatory filing tracks not only the donations to a campaign but also how the campaign spends that money.

In North Carolina, state law requires candidates to file reports while their campaign is active. If they don’t, they are subject to financial penalties, as well as the revocation of ‘active status’ – meaning that the campaigns can no longer accept or make contributions. But, the candidate themselves can still appear on the ballot if labeled inactive.

After Olson-Boseman was late with her last filing in 2018 she received her first “notice of noncompliance” along with a $300 fine. She subsequently received additional notices, for the mid-year and year-end filings due in 2019 and 2020.

Each notice included a version of the following warning, citing the North Carolina Administrative Code:

“If your report is not filed within twenty (20) days of the date of this official notice, 08 NCAC 01.0104 requires that the active status of your committee be terminated. This status renders the committee ineligible to receive or make contributions until the committee has filed the delinquent campaign finance report and satisfied any late filing penalty incurred pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 163A-1451(a).”

Over three years after her first violation, Olson-Boseman’s committee is still active.

The fines are still outstanding, as well, and the state does not appear to have taken the required action to recover the balance, which is required by state law.

“If a violator does not pay a civil penalty assessed by the Board within 30 days after it is due, the Board shall request the Attorney General to institute a civil action to recover the amount of the assessment,” the law states.

Why hasn’t NCSBE taken action?

The word “shall” implies a required action by the state board, but that hasn’t happened. So why has the NCSBE allowed Olson-Boseman to continue on active status, and not terminated her committee?

NCSBE Spokesman Patrick Gannon said it essentially comes down to time, and money.

“The State Board of Elections has not referred this committee for the initiation of a civil lawsuit to recover outstanding penalties. The routine referral of assessments has not taken place in recent years, due to the costly and time-intensive nature of filing a lawsuit to recover campaign finance penalties, the vast majority of which involve modest amounts,” he said.

While there is a time limit for the state to file a lawsuit, Gannon says that has not yet passed — and that Boseman has incurred another $500 fine.

“A civil action must be brought within three years of the date the assessment was due. See G.S. § 163-278.34(e). Currently, the Boseman for Commissioner committee has four overdue penalties … All four penalties are still eligible for such an action to be filed. The New Hanover County Board of Elections recently certified the 2021 Year-End Semiannual Report as late as well. A $500 penalty assessment for this report is currently being processed by the State Board of Election,” Gannon said.

Olson-Boseman’s response

Asked why she had failed to file multiple campaign finance reports, Olson Boseman said in a text-message, “Good question. That is totally my fault and [I] will address it asap. Unfortunately, my treasurer died and it just hasn’t been my focus since I haven’t had any activity with my account.”

Olson-Boseman’s former treasurer Mildred “Millie” Smith Elledge passed away in September, 2021, but had been sick for several years prior. Olson-Boseman took over as her own treasurer in mid-2018, although she did not fill out the appropriate paperwork to serve in that capacity.

“To date she has not submitted the requested amended Statement of Organization to document the change from former treasurer Millie Elledge,” according to New Hanover County Elections Director Rae Hunter-Havens.

Hunter-Havens said there have been several attempts to contact Olson-Boseman with notices, as well as email, however, the board has received no response. Hunter-Havens also said Boseman’s failures to report date back to 2017 after reaching the $10,000 threshold in contributions.

“The committee did not comply with the requirement to file disclosure reports electronically with the State Board of Elections upon reaching/exceeding the $10,000 threshold in cumulative contributions, loans or expenditures during the election cycle (01/01/2017 thru 12/31/2020),” she said.

Asked about why she had neglected this paperwork, the mandatory training, and other campaign requirements, Olson-Boseman said,“I wasn’t sure for the first few years if I was ever going to run again. After securing a campaign manager, [William] Rinehart, we tried to pay my CPA, but he was too busy. The campaign is currently searching for a replacement treasurer.”

Olson-Boseman stated that there had been no donations or expenditures to or by her campaign committee during the two-and-a-half-year reporting gap between the last quarterly report and 2018 and the mid-year report of 2021 (which Olson-Boseman did apparently file on time), which both showed a cash-on-hand balance $548.60. She also said that there had been no financial activity between the mid-year 2021 and now.

Without seeing the reports from the years prior, it is unknown if that’s accurate.

Asked about the unpaid fines, Olson-Boseman said after the initial notice from NCSBE she had forgotten about them.

“Thanks for the heads up. We will deal with this immediately,” she said.

As for the Board of Elections, Gannon said despite a lack of enforcement, committees are ‘strongly encouraged’ to abide by the laws.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.