Election board hears from school board candidates on possible election finance fraud

Dec. 3—EDITOR'S NOTE — This is a redacted version of the story. For the complete version, visit www.GoshenNews.com.

GOSHEN — Allegations of election fraud during the recent school board election are circulating in Goshen and at the center of the issue is Goshen School Board member and former Goshen mayor Allan Kauffman.

Candidates are also being questioned about their involvement in the possible campaign finance fraud as well.

"We take these allegations seriously," said Republican Party election board member Wayne Kramer, who was part of a Tuesday morning meeting of the election board that convened to discuss the allegation. The allegation, according to the board, was a "campaign finance report violation." The meeting was videotaped by an audience member.

Among a variety of Goshen School Board candidates from many backgrounds, concerns mounted regarding the campaign finance reports, late filing of fund reports, and even electioneering.

"I would like to make it very clear that our intention today is to gather additional information," said Kramer, who was seated alongside his counterpart Democratic Party election board member Daniel Grimes.

Along with them were Elkhart County Clerk Christopher Anderson, who is secretary for the election board; and Carol Smith, chief deputy of elections.

"Several complaints were filed with the election office on the concerns of possible campaign finance violations," Smith explained.

The complaints listed the Goshen School Board election campaigns of Jose Elizalde, Mario Garber, Roger Nafziger, and Andrea Johnson, along with Kauffman, who was Elizalde's campaign manager. The complaints claim that the four candidates did not properly submit their CFA-11 campaign finance forms after a mailer was sent to Goshen residents Oct. 29.

The allegations spawn from the presumed cost of a mailer sent to residents in the city of Goshen, rejecting candidates endorsed by Purple for Parents — Rob Roeder, Linda Hartman and Ryan Glick, and supporting Elizalde, Garber, Nafziger, and Johnson. The mailer also indicated that the candidates paid for and authorized the mailer. Claims to the board indicate that they knowingly provided false information on their finance forms.

"The election office has conducted some preliminary investigation and have received some discrepancies in some of the reports," Smith continued, adding that they also reviewed other non-finance reports that they cannot act on and that those would not be looked at.

The four Goshen School Board candidates and Kauffman, who is also a member of the Goshen School Board, are being charged with providing false information on campaign forms, collecting or accepting funds in a manner that is not in accordance with election law and/or being part of illegal activities under Indiana Code, according to the election board.

Smith also noted that the election board would consider allegations of possible electioneering violations against Kauffman as part of another claim made.

During the meeting, which Anderson called an "information gathering meeting," Kauffman took the floor to speak ahead of school board members whom he supported financially, in an effort to explain the situation to election board members.

"My actions kind of drew in the other four that you're talking about here," Kauffman admitted.

Kauffman recalled that the situation began after a retired teacher contacted him with concerns about the election.

* "They wanted to know how they could get word to all the voters of Purple for Parents and who the Purple for Parents' candidates were," he told the board. He and the unnamed retired teacher allegedly discussed the idea of an Elkhart Township-wide mailer, and Kauffman says he told her it was expensive, but he would get a cost. Through Mapleleaf Printing, the total was roughly $11,770.

"I said, 'There's no way the candidates have that kind of money,'" he recalled. "And she said, 'Well what if I contact my friends and other retired teachers and gather the money?'"

Kauffman said the teacher was clear that she did not want her name associated with the mailer because she had heard of situations where funders received backlash from "groups like this," and that she was also concerned about the community holding her husband's business responsible.

Kauffman went on to explain that in addition to that, the money wouldn't have been all the teacher's money anyways, because she gathered it from friends.

"I don't know how many people — I don't know who they were," Kauffman explained. "I know a couple of people who have said they wrote checks that have told me they wrote checks or made donations, I think there were a couple people that collected money to give to her, that helped her out with it."

With the money, the teacher then wrote a check to Kauffman.

"I thought, 'Well, it's going to look weird that Allan Kauffman gives them the money and it says this mailer was paid for by Allan Kauffman' because it's not my money either and it's going to look like it's all my money but it was like from a lot of people."

Kauffman said he checked with the state's election division to see if it would be OK to note on the mailer that it was paid for by the candidates' committees and they said it was as long as the candidates agreed.

Kauffman said he wrote checks to each of the candidates on Oct. 31 and placed two of the four of them inside the storm door of his own home, and dropped Nafziger's off at his office at Goshen College, and Elizalde's inside of his front door.

"I didn't even think about the CFA-11 form until 24 hours after I wrote the checks," he said, "And the law is it has to be reported by the candidates within 48 hours of having received it, so they only had 24 hours left to do it, so I don't know when those CFA-11 forms were filed."

He did note, however, that the checks in his storm door weren't all picked up immediately, recalling that Garber most likely got his check the latest.

Complicating the finances for Kauffman is he said he paid different amounts to the at-large candidates than he did to the District 1 and 3 candidates. He wrote checks to Garber and Nafziger for $4,408, $300 less than what he intended to, so he had to write supplemental checks on Nov. 4 and says he suggested they amend their campaign finance forms. The other two candidates, Elizalde and Johnson both received $1,178.

"I am the one that passed the money on to the candidates and as I read the election law I don't see where that violation is because the candidates reported the money," he said.

He went on to declare that any mix-ups with the finance forms were his fault, due to the confusion and the fact that several candidates had to scramble to develop committees ahead of receiving such large donations as required by election law. The election law requires that any candidate spending over $500 must have a campaign finance committee and a separate campaign account.

"With regard to the electioneering thing," he added. "I know I screwed up on that one. I worked the election. I've worked elections before. I know you can't do electioneering."

Kauffman explained that the electioneering charge stemmed from him taking a photo of the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress Paul Steury as he cast his vote.

"I thought, 'Newspapers take pictures of people. It's not a problem," he said. "But what I shouldn't have done is put that on Facebook with a comment about that, and I didn't even think about electioneering when I did that so that was a screw-up by me. There's no question that was a screw-up by me and I apologize for that."

Following his comments, Kramer asked directly what the source of the nearly $12,000 in funds donated to the campaigns was. Kauffman said he didn't know, and asserted that the retired teacher gathered the funds. He was also asked if to his knowledge any of the contributors gave more than $99 to the cause.

"I know that at least one did. I don't know if anyone else did," he said. "Honestly I don't know if anybody else did. I wouldn't be surprised, but I don't know. ... I knew from past elections that if anybody gives over $100, the candidate has to report that. I was not a candidate. I was a private citizen, so $11,770 was given to me, as not running for office, as not being a candidate. I didn't have to report that $11,770, but if any of those people had written a check directly to the candidates, and if it was over $100, they would have had to report that."

Two of the four candidates involved in the mailer and funding in question also spoke to the board.

Nafziger explained to the board that although he's been involved in several elections, having served previously on the school board, he's never spent more than $500. When he was informed he'd be receiving the donation, he had to quickly develop an account and committee.

"I had to go to Interra (Credit Union) several times to get my committee set up, my account set up because they were short-staffed. I think I ended up saying that I received it when I actually put it in my account," Nafziger said, and confirmed that he did receive the personal check from Kauffman on his desk at Goshen College on Oct. 31, the day Kauffman signed and dropped it off. Nafziger said he only knew what Kauffman had told him that the funds were pulled from a pool of donors.

Johnson said she was concerned from the beginning that she'd made a mistake in her first-ever campaign and went to the clerk on several occasions with questions.

"I actually filed my very first report late because I was in my car going over things and didn't realize it had to be in 'by noon' so it was in at like 12:30 or something like that," she said. "I went back in and checked again and then I was told that there were no other forms until the end of the year when everything would be closed out. It's my fault that I did not look. I just had no idea that there was an amount that I would have to file before the end of the year and so I apologize."

She added that when she learned about the CFA-11 form, she emailed it late at night before the election along with a letter explaining, in hopes that she wouldn't be in violation.

"In all honesty, it was just ignorance of what you do," she said. "This has been a learning experience."

Johnson, however, told the board she didn't know the funds weren't Kauffman's. As a newbie to campaigning, she said she was just happy to be included but made it clear to the group that she didn't have the money to help fund the mailer with the others, and was told that Kauffman would cover it and she believed the funds came directly from him.

The Elkhart County Election Board also noted the late filings of CFA-4 forms from the primary election by Concord Township Assessor candidate Christopher Dickinson, Goshen Community Schools at-large candidate Brian Krider, Jackson Township Trustee candidate Tom Lantz, and Goshen Community Schools District 1 candidates Ryan Glick and Angie McKee. Anderson stated that those would be dealt with during an upcoming election board meeting.

"We still have more information coming in and are doing our research and working with legal council on some of the issues that have presented themselves," Anderson said.

There will be an election board meeting in the coming weeks, although the date has not yet been announced. Possible penalties should the board the allegations substantiated include civil penalties, fines, or referrals to the Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney for further charges.