Updated: Associate AG confirms fast-track ‘inquiry’ begun into NHGOP complaint vs. Hassan campaign

CONCORD — Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said Thursday her office has begun an “inquiry” into the state Republican Party’s two complaints that Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign committee accepted donations from three political action committees that exceeded the legal limit.

 

Edwards said her office will facilitate the inquiry, which she said is not at this point an investigation.

 

“Because we are in the middle of the election cycle, with this kind of complaint, we try to move through them as quickly as possible,” the veteran justice department official told the New Hampshire Journal late this afternoon.

 

“We have a lot of election complaints that are ongoing investigations. But this is one that we will now focus on.

 

“We have some documents to gather and questions to ask. And we’ve started the process. I hope that in the next few weeks we will have the information we need and be able to issue any necessary letters” to clarify the law.”

 

Edwards said once her office has gathered the information it needs, it will determine whether “there may have been a violation,” and, if so, at that point would begin a formal investigation.

 

Edwards said that “one of the big questions that out there” is whether it is legal for one political action committee to give an unlimited contribution to another political action committee, even if that PAC is associated with a candidate. That is what Hassan’s campaign maintains, as detailed below in our earlier reports.

 

Edwards said another question is whether the three union PACs that contributed to Hassan’s campaign provided “enough information regarding the receipts.” The three PAC did not itemize their receipts on their June 18 reports. (See our reports below).

 

The Attorney General’s Office will also “look at” a June 12 letter from Hassan to Secretary of State William Gardner in which she stated that she was changing only the name of her “candidate committee,” but did not say that the structure of the committee was being changed from a PAC to a candidate committee.

 

“Sometimes people misspeak and sometimes the corporate form is unclear,” Edwards said.

 

Edwards said the overall question at issue on whether such contributions are allowable under the current complex election law structure is ripe for clarification.

 

(Our earlier reports follow.)

 

CONCORD – The state Republican Party filed a second complaint with the Attorney General’s Office Thursday asking that the office expand its review of whether Gov. Maggie Hassan accepted campaign contributions that exceeded the legal limit.

 

 

In addition to accepting a $25,000 contribution from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers political action committee on June 12, also on that day Hassan’s committee accepted separate $10,000 contributions from the Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education and the United Food and Commercial Active Ballot Club PAC (see our earlier report below.)

 

The NHGOP maintains that the Hassan committee was limited by law, as interpreted in a 2012 opinion by the Attorney General’s Office, to accept no donation in excess of $7,000 even during the “exploration” stage of the campaign, before she declared her candidacy.

 

The Hassan campaign and the IBEW said the $25,000 contribution was legal because it was made before Hassan filed for reelection and because her committee, when it accepted the contribution, was a political action committee and not a candidate committee. Both have maintained that there is no limit on PAC-to-PAC contributions under precedent dating back to 2006, when former Gov. John Lynch took $25,000 from a PAC headed by then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, called the Heartland PAC.

 

There was no challenge at that time to the contribution to Lynch, the Hassan campaign has pointed out.

 

But the state GOP counters that Hassan signed a letter to Secretary of State William Gardner on June 12 stating that “the name of the committee is changed” from “Friends of Maggie Hassan” to “Maggie ’14.” The party points out the letter says, “Maggie ’14 will continue as my candidate committee” and does not say that the form of the committee was being changed at that time from a PAC to a candidate committee.

 

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said Thursday  the governor’s campaign filed Friends of Maggie Hassan as a political action committee in December 2012 and paid the necessary $50 fee. A candidates committee does not have to pay such a fee.
“My understanding is that one political committee can give to another political committee, not a candidate committee, in an unlimited amount,” he said.

 

 

However, the governor’s Friends of Maggie Hassan PAC did not file a report of receipts and expenditures on June 18, as all PACs were required to do. Scanlan also was not sure how to interpret Hassan’s June 12 letter to Gardner, saying she was simply changing the name of her “candidate committee.”

 

Scanlan said that while PACs are allowed to accept unlimited contributions from other PACs, candidates may be subject to spending limits at any time if they do not agree to the state voluntary spending cap, regardless of whether they file a PAC or a candidate committee.

 

“And prior to the filing, they have not accepted the spending limit,” he said. He also said Hassan did not agree to the voluntary spending limit when she filed for reelection.

 

 

Scanlan declined to give a bottom line opinion on whether he believes the Hassan campaign committee was subject to the limit and may have improperly accepted the three donations.

 

“I think the AG’s office has to weigh in on that,” he said.

 

But Scanlan did say he did not recall telling anyone from the IBEW that a $25,000 contribution was compliant with the law. An IBEW spokesman said someone at the Secretary of State’s Office told the union that a $25,000 donation would comply with the law (see our earlier report below).

 

Scanlan said he did not recall specifically speaking to anyone from the IBEW, but he said, “I can safely say, whether I was asked this particular questions. I wasn’t asked that question.” He said that if he had been asked that question, he would have referred the questioner to the Attorney General’s Office.

 

Attempts to reach the Attorney General’s Office on Thursday were unsuccessful.
The current controversy is not the first time Hassan’s campaign accepted a large donation before she filed her candidacy. In June 2012, Maggie ’12, which was a registered PAC, listed a $25,000 contribution received on June 15 – the same day she filed her candidacy – from the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union PAC.

 

The plumbers and steamfitters PAC did not file its registration papers with the Secretary of State’s office until Aug. 2, nearly two months after making the contribution to Hassan.

 

Hassan’s campaign at that time filed a Maggie ’12 PAC report in June of that year, along with other PACS. This year, there is no listing of a report from her Friends of Maggie Hassan PAC in the June 18 reports on the Secretary of State’s web site.

 

 

NHGOP chairman Jennifer Horn stated Thursday, “It is now clear that Governor Hassan has repeatedly and intentionally ignored contribution limits and solicited limitless donations from special interest groups. The governor doesn’t think that she needs to follow the same rules that other candidates follow, and she has made a mockery out of New Hampshire’s campaign finance laws.

 

“Governor Hassan believes that it is acceptable for her to sit in the corner office in Concord and take unlimited amounts of money from special interest groups that have business before the state. This is a clear violation of the spirit and letter of New Hampshire’s finance laws.”

 

In her new letter to Foster, she wrote, “Her interpretation clearly undermines the spirit and letter of New Hampshire law and directly contradicts the opinion provided by the Department of Justice and currently posted on the Secretary of State’s website. This opinion, which provides guidance to all candidates running for state office, clearly states that candidate committees are limited to $5,000 donations before they declare their candidacy.”

 

The reference is to the 2010 letter by former Attorney General Michael Delaney to Secretary of State Gardner to clear up what Delaney called “ambiguities” about, and “differing interpretations” of, the state’s contribution limits.

 

Horn charged that Hassan “has not followed any of the contribution limits that are required by New Hampshire law. She has refused to follow the rules that have been laid out for every other state candidate by opinions released by the Department of Justice.”

 

Horn also pointed out the three union PACs did not disclose their itemized receipts in their reports, which she charged is also a violation of state election law.

 

(Our earlier report follows.)

 

Wednesday, July 16:

 

CONCORD — The state Attorney General’s Office says it will review a complaint received from the New Hampshire Republican Party Wednesday charging that a union strongly favoring the Northern Pass project made an illegal campaign contribution to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign committee – and that the Hassan campaign illegally accepted it.

 

 

The NHGOP says the $25,000 contribution on June 12 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers political action committee “dramatically exceeded” the state contribution limit. The Republicans also say the IBEW campaign spending report of June 18 is questionable because although it lists total receipts of $143,667, it does not list any itemized receipts.

 

The New Hampshire Journal has learned of two other potentially questionable contributions that may have exceeded the limit: The SEIU Political Education Committee and the United Food and Commercial Workers Active Ballot Club each donated $10,000 to the Friends of Maggie Hassan on June 12, the same day as the IBEW PAC contribution and the same day Hassan filed for governor and changed the name — and possibly the formal structure — of her committee.
“We just received the letter (from the NHGOP) today and so at this point I really can’t comment,” said Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte, who said his office will review the complaint.

 

A spokesman for the IBEW said Tuesday the contribution is fully “compliant” with the law and said the union was told the contribution was compliant by the governor’s campaign and the Secretary of State’s office.

 

The governor’s campaign Wednesday said the IBEW contribution was legal and issued this statement:
“Governor Hassan appreciates the support from workers, families and businesses across New Hampshire for her efforts to create jobs and keep our economy moving in the right direction, and 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.”

 

The statement continued:

 

“Governor Hassan continues to oppose the Northern Pass project as currently proposed and believes that the people of New Hampshire must be heard, and the project must fully investigate burying more sections of the lines. The Governor will continue fighting to protect our scenic views and beautiful natural resources that drive our economy and define us as a place and as a people.”

 

The NHGOP cites an Attorney General’s opinion on spending limits issued in a February 10, 2012 letter from former Attorney General Michael Delaney to Secretary of State William Gardner.

 

Delaney interprets state law as saying that if a candidate agrees to the voluntary campaign spending limit, the campaign can receive from any single donor $5,000 in the exploratory phase, $5,000 in the primary election campaign and $5,000 in the general election phase – for a total of $15,000.

 

If the candidate does not agree to the spending limit, he or she can accept $5,000 in the exploratory phase, $1,000 in the primary campaign and $1,000 in the general election – for a total of $7,000 from a single donor.

 

Delaney says in the letter state law does not prohibit a campaign from “rolling over contributions received” from one phase to the next, and the “contribution limits are not affected.”

 

“Since Governor Hassan has not agreed to adhere to the expenditure cap, based on the Department of Justice opinion the maximum amount of contributions the Hassan Campaign can receive over all three periods from the IBEW PAC is $7,000,” wrote state GOP chair Jennifer Horn in her letter to current Attorney General Joseph Foster. “The IBEW PAC’s $25,000 contribution exceeds this limit by $18,000 and is clearly in violation of state law.”

 

“Huck” Montgomery, a spokesman for the IBEW and its PAC, told the New Hampshire Journal on Tuesday that the contribution is fully legal because the contribution limits do not apply when one political action committee gives to another political action committee, rather than a candidate committee. He said it was the union’s understanding that there is no limit on “PAC to PAC” contributions.

 

Montgomery said the IBEW PAC checked with the Secretary of State’s office and with the Hassan campaign prior to making the contribution and were “assured that the contribution was compliant” with the law.

 

The contribution was made on June 12 and the IBEW PAC registered with the Secretary of State’s office six days later, on June 18, according to the IBEW filing — another point the NHGOP found questionable.

 

The NHGOP points out, however, that Hassan on June 12, the same day the contribution was received, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Gardner stating that she was filing “an amendment to my current candidate committee,” changing the name from “Friends of Maggie Hassan” to “Maggie ‘14.”

 

“Maggie ’14 will continue as my candidate committee,” Hassan wrote. The letter was written on the same day Hassan filed for reelection.

 

Although Montgomery said it was his understanding that the Friends of Maggie Hassan committee was a political committee — or PAC– and not a candidate committee, the GOP points out that  Hassan described her committee as a “candidate committee” in her letter and stated in the letter she was changing the only name of the committee, not the type of committee.

 

The New Hampshire Journal has learned, however, that the governor’s campaign maintains her Friends of Maggie Hassan committee was actually a PAC – and not a campaign committee – prior to the writing of the letter that appeared only to be changing its name. And, it maintains that as a PAC it was able under precedent established as far back as 2006 to accept unlimited contributions from other PACs before she filed her candidacy.

 

“On June 12, 2014, the IBEW PAC broke state law by donating $25,000 to the Friends of Maggie Hassan, a candidate committee that supports the reelection of Governor Maggie Hassan,” Horn wrote to Foster.

 

But Montgomery said, “They were a registered PAC at the time they accepted the contribution from our registered PAC. If we thought it wasn’t compliant, we wouldn’t have done it.”

 

He said, “We were told by the governors’ people that it was compliant,” as well as by the Secretary of State’s office.

 

Secretary of State Gardner and Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan are out of the state until Thursday, an official in their office said.

 

Montgomery said, ““I realize this New Hampshire campaign finance stuff is byzantine,” but he said the contribution complied with the law.

 

“Subsequent to (the contribution), I don’t know what’s going on in terms of her filing or refiling the committee. At the time of the contribution it was a PAC and we were able to make that contribution,” he said.

 

Montgomery also rejected any suggestion that the contribution was made in order to influence Hassan on the Northern Pass project.

 

“We support the candidates that support the working people of the state,” Montgomery said.

 

Hassan campaign manager Marc Goldberg did not return the New Hampshire Journal’s calls seeking further clarification and comment on the Hassan campaign’s position on the matter.

 

Horn said in a statement, “It’s clear that a pro-Northern Pass special interest group funded by union bosses is illegally funneling money into Governor Hassan’s re-election campaign. Attorney General Foster needs to immediately investigate Governor Hassan’s illegal campaign activity and force her to follow the law.

 

“Governor Hassan has attempted to play both sides in the ongoing debate over the controversial Northern Pass project. Her decision to accept illegal contributions from a pro-Northern Pass political action committee raises serious questions that she needs to answer.”

 

Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein’s campaign also weighed in late Wednesday by asking, “Does Maggie Hassan think she’s above the rules?”

 

Havenstein spokesman Henry Goodwin said, “This matter is very troubling and raises serious questions for the Governor.  Does Maggie Hassan think that New Hampshire’s campaign contribution limit doesn’t apply to her? The state Republican Party is right to ask the Attorney General to investigate, because the people of New Hampshire deserve to know if the Governor has broken campaign finance law.”

 

Goodwin also said:

 

“The fact that this donation came from a group which has lobbied heavily in support of Northern Pass raises questions about the Governor’s position.  Is she going to side with the people of New Hampshire, or with her union backers?

 

“It is hypocritical to tell voters in the North Country one thing, then take excessive amounts of money from a special interest group which wants to undermine them.”

 

 

 

Author: John DiStaso

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