Hassan campaign: State law, precedent allowed large PAC contributions

CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign responded late Thursday to two state Republican Party complaints that it received campaign three contributions beyond the legal limit with a 63-page letter to the Attorney General arguing that, in fact, taking such donations from political committees is entirely within the law.

 

Hassan campaign attorney Jay Surdukowski wrote Attorney General Joseph Foster that “New Hampshire law and practice” has long allowed unlimited contributions from one political committee to another, and the fact that the Hassan campaign changed the name of its committee as she filed for reelection is immaterial.

 

“Respectfully,” Surdukowski wrote, “New Hampshire law and practice has permitted such contributions without limitation for many years.”

 

Click here for the entire document submitted by the Hassan campaign.

 

He cited Hassan predecessor John Lynch, Sen. and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, as well as “candidates and political committees on both sides of the aisle for the better part of at least ten election cycles, including among others, prominent Republican campaigns of former U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey, former state Senator Jim Squires, former gubernatorial candidate Jay Lucas and even the New Hampshire Republican Party.”

 

The state GOP, however, said that all of the contributions cited by Surdukowski, even if legal at the time they were made, were superseded by a February 2012 opinion issued in a letter by former Attorney General Michael Delaney that limited the amounts candidates can take from any one donor to $15,000 or $7,000, depending on whether the candidate has agreed to the state’s campaign spending limit.

 

Click here for our earlier reports.

 

“The opinion provided by the New Hampshire Department of Justice on February 10, 2012 makes it very clear that Governor Hassan’s limitless special interest fundraising scheme is illegal,” said NHGOP chair Jennifer Horn.

 

“It is troubling that the governor thinks that the campaign contribution limits that are followed by every other state candidate do not apply to her. Governor Hassan clearly believes that she should be able to accept unlimited donations from unions, special interest groups and organizations with business before the state while she serves in the corner office. That is not the New Hampshire way, and it is a clear violation of our laws.”

 

The Hassan response came as Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards told the New Hampshire Journal that her office has begun an “inquiry” into the state Republican Party’s two complaints that Hassan’s campaign committee accepted donations from three political action committees that exceeded the legal limit outlined in the 2012 letter.

 

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told the Journal the Hassan committee filed as a PAC in December 2012 and, “My understanding is that one political committee can give to another political committee, not a candidate committee, in an unlimited amount.” But he said it is up to the Attorney General, not him, to decide the issue.

 

Hassan’s committee accepted contributions of $25,000, $10,000 and $10,000 from PACs of organized labor organizations representing electrical workers, state employees and workers in industries related to food services on the same day she filed for reelection, but before she actually filed.

 

Surdukowski wrote that it has been a long-standing interpretation of the law that a candidate, before filing, can accept contributions in the same way a filed candidate who agrees to the state spending limit can accept them.

 

“(S)ince there is no limitation on political committee contributions to such self-capped campaigns, the campaign could accept the unlimited donations through the day of declaring on the voluntary cap decision,” he wrote.

 

He also noted that the pertinent state law (RSA 664) “does not place limitations on political committee-to-political committee donations” and wrote that if the Legislature had wanted to cap donations from, or to, such committees or other types of organizations, it “could have included political committees in its list of regulated persons or entities. However, the Legislature did not do so in this statute, or any other.”

 

He writes that as a result, campaigns and political committees of both parties have “relied upon the lack of prohibition on the practice…”

 

And, Surdukowski writes, the Attorney General’s Office has “consistently enforced only the least restrictive interpretations of the contribution limits and have permitted reasonable reads of the statute so as not to infringe on the rights at hand.

 

“We respectfully submit that a reasonable reading of the statute and previous guidance by the Attorney General is that a political committee of a candidate may accept contributions in any amount from a duly registered political committee in the pre-filing period through the day a candidate formally declares an intention as to whether to abide by the voluntary spending caps” outlined in state law. “In addition New Hampshire law does not place limits on the amounts of contributions political committees …. may make to other duly registered political committees.”

 

He argued that the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office cited by the NHGOP applies to corporate and individual contributions, not to contributions between political committees.

 

Surdukowski also notes that as early as 1996, Secretary of State William Gardner told this reporter in a New Hampshire Union Leader story that registered PACs can make unlimited contributions to candidates who abide by the spending limit.

 

He cites 16 examples from 1996 through 2010 of large contributions from PACs to other political committees, including political committees of candidates of both parties.

 

Included are:

 

_ Heartland PAC contributed $30,000 to John Lynch (2006)

 

_ Forward Together PAC contributed $30,000 to John Lynch (2006)

 

_ All America PAC contributed $10,000 to John Lynch (2006)

 

_ Automobile Dealers PAC contributed $15,600 to John Lynch (2008)

 

_ DGA-NH contributed $50,650 to John Lynch (2008)

 

_ Automobile Dealers PAC contributed $10,000 to John Lynch (2010)
_ Free and Strong America PAC contributed $15,000 to the NHGOP (2010)

 

_ House Republican Victory PAC contributed $19,237 to the NHGOP (2010)

 
“We are confident that all contributions are in line with past precedent under New Hampshire law and advice that campaigns and contributors have received from the Attorney General’s office and the Secretary of State’s office over the years,” said Hassan campaign manager Marc Goldberg said in a statement. “There have been numerous past candidates going back nearly two decades who have accepted similar contributions based on that advice. We welcome the Attorney General’s review.”

Author: John DiStaso

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