Alleged violations of the state’s campaign finance rules are once again front and center in the New Hampshire governor’s race, with the top candidates on the receiving end of accusations that they accepted illegal donations.
The New Hampshire Democratic Party was first out of the gate Tuesday, asking Attorney General Joe Foster to investigate Republican candidate Walt Havenstein for “multiple violations,” including allegedly taking money from political action committees that failed to register with the state.
Within hours, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee countered, demanding Foster look into donations to Gov. Maggie Hassan from Emily’s List, a Washington, D.C.-based PAC. The NHGOP calls those contributions “questionable,” although the complaint does not explain how, if at all, they are a violation of state law.
The Democrats want Foster to look into two contributions to Havenstein for Governor: $1,000 from the Fund for American Opportunity, a Leadership PAC based in Washington, D.C., that backs Republican House and Senate candidates; and $2,000 from Rogers for Congress, the PAC for Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Rogers.
State election law says political committees, defined as two or more persons organized to influence an election, “shall register” with the Secretary of State’s office within 24 hours of making an expenditure of more than $500. However, neither organization appears to have registered with the agency as a political committee for the 2014 election.
Democrats further allege Havenstein broke state law by failing to register his own committee before making expenditures on behalf of his campaign. Havenstein’s filing shows he spent $24,000 for “strategic consulting” on March 5. The candidate’s committee, Havenstein for Governor, was registered almost a month later, on April 2, according to Secretary of State records.
The NHDP complaint also notes that Havenstein’s filing failed to include the occupations and employers for dozens of contributors, as required by statute.
"Havenstein's multiple violations of New Hampshire campaign finance law are just the latest example of his scandal-ridden failed leadership and lack of integrity,” said NHDP Chairman Raymond Buckley in a statement. “The only question now is: what will Havenstein say to try to avoid accountability this time?"
Havenstein’s campaign spokesman Henry Goodwin said the candidate believes the PAC contributions are legal based on previous rulings by the Attorney General.
As for Havenstein failing to register his committee before spending campaign dollars, Goodwin said: “Walt spent some money out of his own pocket to explore a potential run, before there was a campaign. Once he decided to run, and formed his campaign committee, he reported these early expenditures.”
The NHDP’s complaint “is without foundation,” Goodwin said, and an attempt to distract attention from Hassan’s own campaign finance missteps.
Indeed, the NHGOP has already forced Hassan to return two donations - $25,000 from the Electrical Workers PAC and $10,000 from the Plumbers and Steamfitters PAC. An AG investigation found that the contributions were accepted one day after Hassan had officially declared her candidacy, at which point PAC contributions were limited to $1,000.
The latest complaint focuses on two $25,000 contributions Emily’s List made to Hassan, which the governor reported on her August 20 campaign finance report.
NHGOP Chair Jennifer Horn initially claimed Emily’s List had failed to disclose the expenditures. Horn was forced to amend her complaint after learning two campaign finance reports submitted by the group were posted on the Secretary of State’s website.
The new complaint doesn’t allege any illegal activity on the part of Hassan or Emily’s List. Instead, Horn suggests that since Hassan was found to have accepted improper donations already, the Emily’s List contributions deserve special scrutiny.
"All unlimited donations accepted by Governor Hassan’s campaign around the time that she filed must be scrutinized given that the governor has already demonstrated that she is willing to break campaign finance laws,” Horn wrote.
According to the governor’s August 20 campaign finance report, the Emily’s List contributions were received on June 4 and June 11, before she filed paperwork declaring her candidacy.
"The contributions from Emily's List were both issued and received before the deadline, and documentation verifying that information has been provided to the Attorney General's office,” said Hassan campaign spokesperson Aaron Jacobs. “Given that their initial complaint about Emily's List was found to be completely false, the NHGOP has no credibility on this issue and their complaint has no merit."