CONCORD – The Attorney General Office said Friday it will order Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign committee to return $24,000 of $45,000 in contributions from three labor union political action committees that were challenged by the state Republican Party, but also said the governor’s committee did not improperly take the remaining $21,000 because she received it before she formally filed for reelection.
According to a letter released Friday afternoon from Attorney General Joseph Foster to NHGOP Chair Jennifer Horn, Hassan can keep separate $10,000 contributions from the Service Employees International Union PAC and a PAC associated with the United Food and Commercial Workers because they were received before Hassan officially became a candidate.
But a $25,000 contribution from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers was not formally released from the union’s agent until June 13, 2014, when it was picked up by the Friends of Maggie Hassan Committee, Foster wrote. At that point, Hassan had filed her papers as a candidate and was forbidden by state law from taking any contribution in excess of $1,000.
Because the contribution limit was in effect when her committee received that IBEW donation, “the Friends Committee will be ordered to return $24,000 to the IBEW PAC,” wrote Foster. He did not mention any potential criminal violation for the committee taking $24,000 more than the law allowed on June 13.
For the full six-page letter from Foster to Horn, click here.
Also, Foster signed the letter despite the fact that in 2012, he was a member of Hassan 2012 campaign finance committee. Click here for the Hassan campaign press release at the time.
The IBEW is a strong proponent of the Northern Pass project. Hassan opposes the transmission line project as currently proposed and has urged the project’s builders to “fully investigate burying more sections of the lines.”
Overall, the Attorney General upheld the Hassan campaign’s position that contributions from one political committee to another are not subject to limits until a candidate files formal paperwork with the Secretary of State declaring a candidacy.
Her campaign committee said that while her position was vindicated, it will return $24,000 to the IBEW as ordered by the Attorney General.
But the state GOP and Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein said Hassan was “caught” breaking state campaign finance law, and , said Horn, “It will up to the next responsible Republican governor to close the ‘Hassan Special Interest Loophole’ and restore integrity to our campaign finance system.”
Foster also ruled that the three unions violated a campaign finance law by failing to register their PACS within 24 hours of receiving a contribution in excess of $500 or making an expenditure of more than $500.
The AG’s office found that the PACs did not register until four to five days after making the contributions to the Hassan committee. Although their PACs had not been legally registered at the time they gave the contributions, and although they did not register within the 24-hour period required by law, Foster allowed Hassan to keep the full contributions from the SEIU and the UCFW, and $1,000 from the IBEW.
“Based on the timeline described in this letter, all three PACs failed to file timely registrations with the Secretary of State” and “have been sent cease and desist letters based on this finding,” the Attorney General wrote.
The NHGOP had charged all three contributions were illegal because Hassan’s campaign was limited under the law and prior Attorney General’s Office opinions to taking no more than $7,000 from any contributor.
Hassan’s campaign committee maintained the contributions were entirely legal as outlined by other opinions from the Attorney General’s Office. Her campaign said the law allows unlimited contributions from one political committee to another political committee and that contributions to candidates’ political committees are treated no differently until the candidate actually files to run for the position.
It pointed out that political committees associated with sitting governors and candidate have taken large contributions before formal filings for office for many years.
Hassan’s campaign thanked the Attorney General’s Office “for quickly reaffirming that these long-standing practices are in accordance with New Hampshire law.
“Numerous past candidates going back nearly two decades have accepted similar contributions based on guidelines and advice from the Attorney General’s office and the Secretary of State’s office, and we appreciate the Department of Justice’s quick decision upholding past practice and precedent,” Hassan campaign spokesman Aaron Jacobs said.
“While all of the contributions were issued before the deadline, we will return the funds that were physically delivered after the deadline in line with the Department of Justice’s guidance. The governor would welcome the legislature’s engagement in efforts to clarify New Hampshire’s campaign finance laws.”
GOP chair Horn, however, said, “Today’s ruling confirms that Governor Maggie Hassan broke the law by accepting an illegal campaign contribution from a special interest union PAC. Governor Hassan was caught red-handed trying to funnel tens of thousands of dollars in illegal donations into her campaign bank account, and her behavior raises serious ethical questions about her administration.
Horn called on Hassan to “immediately release her campaign finance reports in advance of the August 20 filing deadline. The public has a right to know if the governor has accepted any other illegal donations that could improperly influence the gubernatorial campaign.”
Horn also said the state Department of Justice “has established a troubling loophole that allows elected officials like Governor Hassan to accept infinite amounts of money from special interests while in office. It appears that Governor Hassan is the only official who has attempted to exploit this questionable exception and allow the corrupting influence of unlimited special interest donations to poison her campaign.”
Havenstein said that if elected, he will “work with the legislature to close the Hassan Loophole by applying the same rules to PAC-to-PAC donations as apply to individuals.”
Havenstein said, “Maggie Hassan has just demolished the integrity of New Hampshire’s campaign finance rules for her own selfish political ends. In putting her own political career over the interests of the citizens of New Hampshire, she has paved the way for unlimited special interest contributions to swamp our elections. Having been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she now has the gall to call for the Legislature to fix her mess.”
Although the Attorney General upheld Hassan’s position, Republican candidate for governor Andrew Hemingway said, “The fact remains Gov. Hassan is taking obscene amounts of money to promote Northern Pass.”