published Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Congressional candidate Ron Bhalla corrects financial disclosure

by Chris Carroll

Republican congressional candidate Ron Bhalla appears to have fixed his campaign finance disclosure 10 days after the Chattanooga Times Free Press exposed several accounting errors and omissions.

Federal Election Commission regulations require candidates to itemize and describe most campaign transactions, but Bhalla's 11-page finance report included just one expenditure -- a $14,145 lump-sum disbursement to himself without any explanation.

Bhalla is challenging U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.

On Wednesday, Bhalla faxed an amended report to the Times Free Press, highlighting detailed expenditures for signs, printing, advertising and other staples of the campaign trail. (In fact, Bhalla spent $5,630 at Staples itself, according to the report.)

A first-time political candidate, Bhalla said the Federal Election Commission never contacted him about the previous discrepancies -- with $935 in campaign cash on hand, he's by far the least-funded Republican in a primary packing three candidates (Fleischmann, Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp) with at least $1.6 million among them.

Still, Bhalla said he was motivated to revise his forms to meet expectations of transparency.

"I was unaware of this," Bhalla said. "I know what to do now."

Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., said Bhalla is unlikely to face punishment.

"Given how small the Bhalla campaign is, the FEC is unlikely to give it a hard time over this," Ryan said. "Technically, if a report doesn't contain the required information at the time the report is due, the law has been violated. But [campaign] committees routinely amend reports and pay small fines or no fines at all."

Bhalla said he plans to mail his new forms to the Federal Election Commission this week.

Democrats Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor are fighting for their party's nomination, and the lone independent candidate is Matthew Deniston.

Primaries are Aug. 2.

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