What Factors Are Considered Fatal and Material Defects While Filing Nomination Petitions ?

In Nomination Petition of Anastasio, 820 A.2d 880 (Pa. Cmwith.), aff'd per curiam, 573 Pa. 512, 827 A.2d 373 (2003), the Commonwealth Court extended this "rule of fatality" to include material defects in the statement itself. In other words, while prior cases had made clear that the failure to timely file the statement or the filing in an improper location were fatal and non-amendable defects, Anastasio extended this rationale to consideration of the material in the statement itself, finding that anything less than complete and correct disclosure was a fatal and material defect. In In re Benninghoff, 578 Pa. 402, 852 A.2d 1182 (2004), however, our Supreme Court concluded that Financial Statements should be analyzed under a "substantial compliance" standard, noting that regulations of the Ethics Commission as well as the forms provided allow for amendments. While Benninghoff involved facts In which the missing information could be facially obtained from information provided elsewhere on the form, it is clear that, at a minimum, Benninghoff has substantially limited the holding in Anastasio. Additionally, Benninghoff produced two concurring opinions in which three justices joined arguing vigorously that Anastasio was wrongly decided. While the majority in Benninghoff strove mightily to distinguish Anastasio and harmonize its new "substantial compliance" rule with the Commonwealth Court's Anastasio decision, nowhere did the 4-justice majority specifically approve of the Anastasio rationale. Moreover, there are jurisdictional arguments not presented in any of these cases (nor presented here) that may well mandate a different result. The Benninghoff Court, prior to its review of the matter and without addressing the question of jurisdiction transferred the case to the State Ethics Commission and directed that body to issue a disposition regarding whether the defect at issue was a fatal or amendable defect. Although the Supreme Court ultimately disagreed with the Commission's conclusion, the question of jurisdiction was not answered. It could well be argued that because it is the Ethics Act that requires timely filing of statements of financial interest, the question of whether the contents of the statements are accurate is properly subject to the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission and not a court hearing objections to the nomination petitions.