CONCORD – The state Republican Party on Wednesday continued its series of requests for clarification of campaign finance laws as they relate to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign organization by asking the Attorney General’s Office to provide an official opinion on reporting requirements of candidate and non-candidate political committees.
If the Attorney General complies with the request and issues an opinion, it would have broader implications for how political committees associated with candidates must report their receipts and expenditures.
There was no immediate comment from the Hassan campaign, but state Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley posted on Twitter:
“Is it possible for @NHGOP to sound anymore desperate? With such terrible candidates, message & organization, what else they got?”
The new request by NHGOP Chair Jennifer Horn comes as a direct result of a New Hampshire Journal report on Aug. 6, in which an official of the Attorney General’s Office said the Hassan campaign was within the law to accept unlimited political action committee contributions just before she formally filed the necessary paperwork to officially become a candidate and yet still not file a receipts and expenditures report on the deadline for non-candidate political committees.
Associate Attorney General Richard Head told the Journal on Aug. 6 that Hassan did not have to report on the June 18 deadline because when Hassan changed the name of her committee on June 12, the day she formally filed for reelection, the Attorney General’s Office also viewed it as a “self-designation” that at that point, it was a political committee of a candidate and so had then become subject to an Aug. 20 deadline.
Two years ago, the “Maggie ’12” campaign committee accepted big donations above the limits outlined for candidate committees because it was not a political committee of a candidate. But it complied with the requirement to file a June 2012 report, and did so.
It filed no June report this year.
Horn is seeking clarification in a formal opinion that focuses on large donations received by the Hassan committee – first named “Friends of Maggie Hassan” but changed to “Maggie ‘14” on June 12 – from several union political action committees.
Horn also again asked Attorney General Joseph Foster to formally recuse himself from a still-pending review of a union PAC contribution received by Hassan in 2012 because not only was he a member of Hassan’s campaign finance committee in 2012 – before he was named Attorney General – but also because he received several union PAC contributions as a candidate for the state Senate.
Foster told the New Hampshire Journal on Tuesday that he would “probably” recuse himself, but had not made a final decision, although he said he could not recall soliciting union contributions for Hassan in 2012. He said he would take a “conservative” approach and understood that it is important to dispel any appearance of a conflict-of-interest.
Horn, in her letter, laid out her concerns.
“Earlier this month the Department of Justice ruled that Governor Hassan could keep several donations that exceeded New Hampshire’s long established contribution limits because of a loophole that your office claims allows unlimited PAC to PAC transfers before a candidate officially files paperwork to run for office. As you noted, ‘Friends of Maggie Hassan’ was filed as a PAC and was allowed to follow different rules than if it were filed as a candidate committee. This PAC was later converted to ‘Maggie 14,’ a candidate committee, on June 12, 2014 when the governor filed to run for re-election.”
Horn noted that while Hassan did not file a “close out PAC report” on the non-candidate committee “Friends of Maggie Hassan” on the June 18 deadline, “PACs tied to elected officials from both parties who filed for re-election and became candidates filed reports on June 18th including ‘Friends of Jeb Bradley for State Senate,’ ‘Bette Lasky for State Senate,’ ‘Friends of Maureen Mooney,’ ‘Supporters of Molly Kelly,’ and many more.”
Horn noted that the The Telegraph of Nashua reported earlier this week that previous governors including Democrat John Lynch and Republican Craig Benson, who had PACs before officially filing for re-election, submitted reports by the June deadlines in those years.
“Even Maggie Hassan’s first gubernatorial campaign, which was initially a PAC before converting to a candidate committee when she filed on June 15, 2012, submitted a report by the June 20, 2012 deadline.”
Horn noted that Associate Attorney General Head had told the New Hampshire Journal that Hassan was not required to report on June 18 of this year because she had “self-designated’ on June 12 that her PAC was at that point a political committee of a candidate. That self-designation came in a letter changing the name of the committee.
“However documents filed with the Secretary of State indicate that ‘Friends of Maggie Hassan’s’ chairperson checked a box and paid a $50 fee that ‘must accompany this registration if it is not a political committee of a candidate’” when the committee was formed,” Horn wrote. “This directly contradicts Associate Attorney General Head’s explanation that Hassan had determined that ‘Friends of Maggie Hassan’ was a ‘self-designated’ political committee of a candidate.”
The Horn letter notes that while Head said the name-change letter changed the type of committee as well as the name, Hassan campaign attorney Jay Surdukowski had earlier “made it clear” in a formal filing with the Attorney General’s Office “that the name-change letter had no ‘substantive import’ other than the fact that ‘the campaign simply updated the name of its committee for the current election season.’”
“Given this information, the informal opinion that Associate Attorney General Head gave to New Hampshire Journal doesn’t make any sense,” Horn wrote. “If ‘Friends of Maggie Hassan’ was a PAC that could take unlimited transfers, and by its own admission was ‘not a political candidate of a committee,’ it should have filed a report on June 18, 2014 with every other PAC. Then-candidate Hassan clearly understood this requirement when she filed a PAC report in June of 2012. She also filed PAC reports in June during her previous campaigns for state senate.”
Horn wrote that to clear up the confusion, “and the possibility that the Hassan campaign is purposely delaying disclosure of her campaign finance report to obscure further illegal activity until the last possible moment, I ask that the Department of Justice review this information and provide an official opinion so that all candidates, PACs and Party committees have the benefit of understanding your office’s position on these laws.”
Horn also seeks, under the state right-to-know law, the full case file from the Attorney General’s Office’s recent probe of the NHGOP’s July 16 request regarding Hassan’s receipt of contributions from three union PACs that resulted in her returning $24,000 of $25,000 of one contribution but being able to keep two other $10,000 contributions – all from PACs associated with organized labor unions.
She asks for the information in “any and all forms, paper, digital or otherwise, in which information may be found.”
Also, “I am specifically requesting that you provide me and the public at-large with an official determination on your role in this investigation,” Horn wrote. “It is imperative that the residents and taxpayers of New Hampshire have confidence in the fair and impartial operation of the Department of Justice. I have asked that you recuse yourself from this probe given that you served on then-candidate Hassan’s finance committee in 2012 when one of the questionable donations was made. I was encouraged to see that you told the New Hampshire Journal that you would “probably” recuse yourself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in this matter, and perhaps other future matters that require an objective review of Governor Hassan and her campaign activity.”
Horn wrote, “If there is any further doubt that you should recuse yourself, it has come to my attention that during your previous career as a state senator, you frequently accepted political donations from AFL-CIO New Hampshire President Mark Mackenzie (2004) and union PACs including the Granite State Teamsters PAC (2002 and 2004), and the International Union of Painters and Allies Trades PAC (2004).
“Even more troubling, you also accepted contributions from the IBEW Local 490 Cope Fund (2004) and Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 131 PAC (2004) — two PACs that are directly tied to the same unions that are mentioned in our complaint. Clearly, your close political ties to Big Labor present another alarming conflict of interest that should convince you step aside in this matter.”