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Review finds fault with election spending reports

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

July 08. 2018 12:16AM
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald (File photo)



N.H. Secretary of State Bill Gardner

CONCORD - State prosecutors found that more than half of recently turned-in campaign finance reports contained violations of election laws as part of the first comprehensive review of these records in the middle of election season.

Among the 142 candidate and political committees that filed reports by June 20, 73 of them had either omissions or incorrect information not in compliance with legal requirements, state officials said.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Broadhead said he expects fewer flaws from future records as candidates and their campaign treasurers become familiar with proper procedures.

"We have a duty to ensure that the reports are transparent, that they are accurate and that they comply with the law," Broadhead said during a telephone interview.

But some officeholders and candidates who got these violation letters considered them to be an example of overzealous regulation.

"I am just curious. They are getting overly picky about someone who's legally trying to correctly submit their campaign spending and receipts. I would feel a lot better if that Attorney General's office gave this degree of definition and detail to complaints about voter fraud," said state Sen. Robert Giuda, R-Warren.

Giuda said his violation letter cited several omissions of information that he said may have been the result of his treasurer not filing the report electronically so it didn't pick up those details. Giuda said he's already turned in an amended report to fix the shortcomings.

After the 2016 election, some legislative leaders were surprised to learn that every two years Secretary of State Bill Gardner - working with the Division of Motor Vehicles - was reporting on how many new voters cast ballots with out-of-state driver's licenses.

More than 5,000 fell into that category in 2016, the most being college students maintaining the residence of their home states.

Gardner's office prepared these reports but prosecutors did not do anything with the results, legislators learned.

So in the state budget crafted in 2017, the Legislature set aside about $500,000 in beefed-up election law enforcement for the offices of both Gardner and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald.

For the attorney general, this meant paying for a full-time investigator to look into election law complaints.

MacDonald created a stand-alone election law unit, named Broadhead as its head and designated Chief Investigator Richard Tracy as the staff lead on these matters. Tracy is a former Manchester police officer.

For the first time, Broadhead informed state party heads and Gardner's office that his team would be examining every single campaign finance report turned in and also would conduct random audits of those records.

The announcement came with a detailed checklist about what state investigators would be reviewing and what were proper filings.

Read the attorney general's checklist here.

"We put everyone on notice that we were going to be doing this," Broadhead said.

The checklist lists whether the reports contain all donations and expenses and whether each one contains the proper information such as source, amount of money, date and address or from where the money got spent or the check came.

After Broadhead's unit completed its review, each candidate with infractions was issued a warning letter and was urged to file a follow-up report making the necessary fixes.

Campaigns that filed their reports late were reminded state law carries with it a fine of $25 per day, but Broadhead said in this case that provision was not enforced.

"We sent out 73 letters to all campaigns warning them of the violation that we had discovered," Broadhead said.

"This round was really just to make people aware that we are looking at the reports, that we expect compliance and transparency and that they are accurate."

The most common problem was that more than 30 percent of all reports, 43 of them, did not disclose the city or town where a donor's business is located. Candidates must disclose that information about any donor who gives at least $100, Broadhead said.

Another 25 percent of reports, or 35 candidates or committees, did not identify whether an expense should be applied before the election season, during the primary or for the general election.

"That is an important tool to contain for compliance with campaign finance," Broadhead said. "For any candidate that agrees with the voluntary spending limit, you need to know which bucket to apply that expense."

Giuda said state prosecutors have not done enough to investigate those who cast ballots using addresses that aren't valid.

"I'd be curious to know who got these letters," Giuda said.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Clegg is a lobbyist who runs Legislative Solutions LLC, which among lobbyists gives some of the most in campaign donations to candidates.

"This is clearly over the top and I fear it can be used to punish your enemies or those that don't agree with the current government," Clegg said.

"I've given that office evidence of clear election law crimes and they don't get investigated, and you're harassing candidates who are trying to do their best."

But Broadhead said his office has received no complaints from those who got these letters, and 15 have asked for help from his unit in making the fixes.

A complete list of who got these warning letters will be made available in the future once comments on those reports are redacted, he said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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