Ted Siefer's City Hall: Candidates remain casual about campaign finance rules
September 28. 2013 9:35PM
POLITICAL candidates and organizations in Manchester have long taken a casual attitude toward the city's requirements for disclosing campaign finances.
With the deadline having now come and gone for the first required filing for the 2013 municipal election, it appears there has been some modest improvement. As of the Sept. 17 primary, only a few candidates had failed to submit their 10-days-before-primary financial reports, listing contributions and spending to the City Clerk.
In 2011, 15 candidates had not turned in campaign reports by the deadline. (For most candidates, there's really no excuse, since at this stage few of them have raised more than $500, exempting them from having to compile an itemized report.)
Still, political action committees continue to regard filing forms with the city as more of a suggestion than a rule. The city has a broad definition of a PAC: "Any organization of two or more persons to influence through contributions and or expenditures municipal elections or measures, including the political committee of a political party."
Among the organizations that did not file reports by the primary deadline were the Manchester Police Patrolman's Association and the Manchester Republican Committee, which has not filed in past elections either. Will Infantine, the state representative who recently became chairman of the GOP committee, said the Manchester Republican Committee had not submitted its report because the city's rules for filing have been - and remain - unclear. But the committee did end up filing a report last week. Infantine acknowledged it was a couple days late, and he said the group will meet all the subsequent deadlines for the election.
"Across the country - people who contribute - it has to be made public for everyone to see," Infantine said. "If that's the goal, right now the goal (in the city) is not being met.
"The problem is," he added, "the (city) clerk has no enforcement ability."
It so happens that one of the ballot items proposed by the Charter Commission, of which Infantine was a member, would put some teeth into the filing requirement. It would impose a $100 fine for not filing the required forms, with an additional $10 fine for each day the candidate or organization fails to do so.
The patrolmen's union, meanwhile, is among several public employee unions - most of which contribute to Democratic candidates - that do not file PAC reports. (The biggest donor this year, the Manchester Professional Fire Fighters, does file reports with the city.)
The patrolmen's union contributed at least $750 to Democratic mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold, according to his form. Union president Steven Maloney said its accountant and attorney assured the group that it was not required to file as a PAC.
"If all the association did was political stuff, we would, but it's just a small part of the organization," he said. "We're just like a private entity giving money to a candidate."
The city clerk's office probably would beg to differ.
THE SCHOOL board and new superintendent Debra Livingston continue to enjoy a smooth relationship, but her grace period may be over, judging by Monday's school board meeting. A majority of the board, including Mayor Ted Gatsas, rejected Livingston's recommendation that the district rejoin the New Hampshire School Boards Association, at a cost of about $7,700 a year.
The meeting had a light agenda, which might explain why the issue was debated as long as it was. The board had voted to end its membership in the statewide group two years ago at the urging of former superintendent Tom Brennan, who said the organization was geared toward boards in smaller communities.
But Livingston said membership in the group could provide helpful legal guidance as the board conducts an overhaul of the district's policies, many of which a recent audit found to be outdated.
"The reason for the school board this year becoming a member is mainly because of the services that can be rendered around policy, and to make sure policies of the board are matching (other districts)," she said.
But the board voted 9-5 against the rejoining the association.
Gatsas suggested that it wasn't worth $7,700 just to have another set of eyes review the district's policy book.
"I think that's way too much," he said.
MANCHESTER politics can produce some strange bedfellows. Case in point: the Zoning Board hearing on Wednesday, when Joe Kelly Levasseur, the at-times fiery Republican alderman-at-large, and Kathy Sullivan, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, both lined up to speak against allowing AT&T to build a tower off South Mammoth Road.
As it turns out, Levasseur and Sullivan, both of whom are attorneys, were worthy adversaries of the giant wireless company. The board once again rejected AT&T's request for a variance.
Levasseur and Sullivan, each in their own way, challenged AT&T's contention that the Mammoth Road location was the only viable place for a tower. Levasseur noted that his wife has AT&T. "In fact, my wife keeps telling me I should get on AT&T because she doesn't have any dropped calls," he told the board.
Sullivan, who lives in the area where AT&T wants to build its tower, laid out a legal argument complete with a citation to an earlier case in Kingston.
After the hearing, she said she was happy to have an ally in Levasseur, at least on this cause. "What's that they say? The enemy of my enemy is my friend sometimes," she said.
Ted Siefer covers Manchester politics for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.