AG: Hassan campaign must return $24,000 donation
Gov. Maggie Hassan must return $24,000 of a contribution from a labor union’s political committee to her re-election campaign, Attorney General Joe Foster ruled yesterday.
Foster made his ruling in response to a complaint from the New Hampshire Republican Party, which alleged the $25,000 contribution from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers political committee violated state campaign finance laws. The party also filed complaints about two other $10,000 donations to Hassan’s re-election campaign, but she does not have to give those back.
The Republican Party had argued that candidates could only accept up to $5,000 from political committees prior to filing for office, and then $1,000 in the primary and general elections. But Hassan’s campaign said a candidate’s political committee can accept as much as it wants from other political committees before the candidate actually files.
Foster ruled that the Hassan campaign’s interpretation of the law is correct. But it must give all but $1,000 back because the donation was collected on June 13, the day after the governor filed for re-election and became subject to contribution limits. She took the other two donations on June 12, the day she filed, which is why she doesn’t have to give them back.
That means, under the ruling, candidates can accept unlimited donations through their political committees until the end of the day they file for re-election. The AG’s office noted in the ruling that it made a similar decision in 2012, and Hassan’s campaign called the ruling an affirmation of “long-standing” practices related to campaign donations.
“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,” spokesman Aaron Jacobs said in an email.
The campaign did not apologize for when it accepted the contribution.
“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,” Jacobs said.
The Republican Party, however, says Hassan’s acceptance of the donation “raises serious ethical questions about her administration.”
Party chairwoman Jennifer Horn called on Hassan to release her campaign finance report before the Aug. 20 deadline. Committees had to release their first reports June 18, which is how the Republican Party found the questionable donation.
“The public has a right to know if the governor has accepted any other illegal donations that could improperly influence the gubernatorial campaign,” Horn said in a statement.
Horn also said the ruling establishes a “troubling loophole” by allowing elected officials to accept unlimited cash while in office. The IBEW is a labor union that lobbies on a variety of issues at the State House and supports the Northern Pass project.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein immediately took the ruling as an opportunity, pledging to close the “Hassan loophole” if elected governor. To that end, Havenstein said he’d work with the Legislature to make sure limits on individual donors also apply to donations between political committees.
“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,” Havenstein said in a statement.
In several previous decisions, the Attorney General’s office has urged the Legislature to fix the state’s convoluted and unclear campaign finance laws.
The office also sent cease and desist letters to each of the three political committees that made the donations in question, because they filed with the Secretary of State’s office after making the donations.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)