By AINSLEY PLATT, Alabama Daily News
When John Nimmer, the Republican candidate for state senator in District 23, was asked why he didn’t file his campaign finance reports during the election cycle, his answer was simple:
“I thought I didn’t meet the threshold (to file) … I had next to no money,,” he told Alabama Daily News this month.
Nimmer said he was unaware that a contribution he made to his campaign in January 2022 – the qualification fee that all candidates need to pay to run in elections in Alabama – brought him over the spending threshold required to start filing monthly campaign finance reports with the Secretary of State’s office.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, the online filing system used by the state sends automated messages to candidates to remind them to file.
Now, Nimmer is one of 113 candidates or political action committees from the 2022 election cycle who have been referred from the Alabama Secretary of State’s office to the Attorney General for violating campaign finance rules. Separately, more than 1,000 candidates or PACS received letters saying they had at least one violation.
Secretary of State John Merrill’s office did not provide a list of candidates or PACs who had received violation letters or were referred to the attorney general’s office, and the AG’s office declined to answer questions about the status of those referrals.
The Fair Campaign Practices Act spells out penalties for campaign finance reporting violations. Each of the first three violations committed by a candidate results in fines, which increase for each violation. Once a candidate has a fourth violation, they must be referred to the attorney general’s office or the appropriate district attorney for prosecution, which could result in a Class A misdemeanor if convicted.
Nimmer eventually filed his reports after the November election, after Alabama Daily News reported on his more than 20,000 votes in the general election despite a lack of recorded spending. The Senate District 23 race saw more votes cast than any other Senate race, but Nimmer fell short to Democrat Robert Stewart of Selma. Merrill told ADN Stewart supporters raised the reporting issue to Merrill’s office, prompting it to contact Nimmer. Nimmer credited his election success to his grassroots campaign and reported less than $1,200 in expenditures.
In addition to possible legal action by the state, Merrill said Nimmer is facing “significant” fines.
“We will follow proper protocol according to state law,” Merrill said. “We will get our money, because we will take him to court (if he doesn’t pay),” Merrill said. “We’re acting on behalf of the people of Alabama and he has a fiduciary responsibility to pay his debt on what he’s incurred by breaking the law.”