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Candidate's Attempt to Return Campaign Donations Could Lead to Change in Del. Law

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LONG NECK, Del. (WBOC) - George Parish's campaign to run for the Sussex County Council got off the ground last year, but it never really took flight. And recently he decided to drop out of the race.

What Parish tried to do next could lead to a change in state law.

Parish spent eight years as Sussex County Clerk of the Peace. And about two and a half years ago, it looked like the door was opening for him to make a run at a county council seat.

"I had a conversation with the Republican incumbent councilman, George Cole, he indicated to me at that time he probably not seek re-election at the end of his term," he said.

Parish started raising money for a campaign last spring. But recently the landscape shifted. Cole decided he would seek re-election. If Cole ran, Parish had said he wouldn't.

According to state campaign finance records, Parish had raised almost $7,700 for his candidacy since the spring. It was money he no longer intended to use for a campaign. And Parish decided what he wanted to do with it.

"It's only right in my opinion that if you're going to withdraw your candidacy, that you should return the funds to the people who believed in your candidacy."

His campaign treasurer, Carole Andrejko, called the Office of the State Election Commissioner to see how to go about doing that.

"I spoke to the representative up there and told her George's campaign was no longer," she said. "And his intention was to return the funds. At that time she said, he cannot do that. It's illegal."

The Election Commission confirms that state law allows a candidate to do lots of things with unused campaign funds, like put them toward another campaign or give them perhaps to a religious or charitable organization. But, it says nothing about giving it back to the donors.

"The purpose of this type of law is to prevent the money from being used for an improper purpose after the election is over," said David Earley, an expert in campaign finance with the Brennan Center for Justice. "So, instead, you want the money to go to an appropriate purpose. Here, you just have an unfortunate result."

Parish's campaign money came from about 80 individual donors, donors Parish says gave money for him not to some other organization or candidate, donors like Frank Ali.

"It's my money. I gave it to George Parish. George Parish is my candidate," Ali said.

And lawmakers are getting involved to see if state code can be altered to get people like Ali his money back. Senate Minority Whip Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Fairthorne, could introduce legislation as early as the upcoming week.

"If we need to change the law to do that. Then, rest assured, we will file a bill and give legislators the opportunity to support that," he said.

For now, Parish's campaign war chest just sits there, waiting for a potential law change, though he knows it may be a while before that happens. 

"At which time I will then return the money back to the people," Parish said.

Parish says he spent about $450 on his campaign. But at the start, he made a $600 contribution to himself. He says that money covers his expenses, so he doesn't owe any creditors money for his campaign.
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