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Hassan to return law firm donation

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

October 30. 2016 8:42PM

Gov. Maggie Hassan addresses a candidate forum at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester on Sunday. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)



A spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, said she will return more than $30,000 in campaign donations received from a Massachusetts law firm, after a story published in the Boston Globe revealed bonuses paid to partners at the firm that match — dollar for dollar — millions in campaign donations made by employees to predominantly Democratic candidates for office.

A report published this weekend by the Center for Responsible Politics’ Open Secrets Blog and the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team shows from 2010 through 2014, David C. Strouss, a partner with the Boston, Mass.-based Thornton Law Firm and fellow Thornton partner Garrett Bradley, as well as the firm’s founding partner Michael Thornton and his wife, donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic party fundraising committees and dozens of politicians.

Hassan received the second-most in campaign donations of any candidates with $31,000 in donations, behind only Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, who received $45,000. Also receiving money: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Over the same time frame, the Globe reported lawyers received $1.4 million in payments that were listed as “bonuses,” in Thornton law firm records; 280 of the political contributions precisely matched bonuses that were paid to lawyers within 10 days of the contributions being made.

Records also show Thornton lawyers contributed $27,700 to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and $12,500 to Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-NH.

By making donations as individuals, Thornton lawyers gave more to individual candidates over the course of a single year than the firm itself could have donated under federal law.

On Sunday, Hassan campaign staff said the funds would be returned.

“We had no idea about the practices inside this firm, and we assume that as the Globe reported, none of the other Republican or Democratic candidates who received contributions knew either,” said Maggie for NH Communications Director Aaron Jacobs in a statement issued Sunday. “We will be returning the contributions from this firm.”

To explain the donation process, the Center for Responsible Politics used a 2014 donation from Thornton partner David Strouss to Hassan’s gubernatorial campaign as an example. On June 10, 2014, Strouss gave Hassan’s campaign $1,000, and six days later gave $2,500 to the campaign of John Walsh in Minnesota.

According to the Center for Responsible Politics, a non-profit based in Washington that analyzes campaign finance reports, Thornton records show on June 16, 2014, that Strouss received a “bonus” of $3,500.

GOP: Donations tainted

New Hampshire Republicans called the campaign donations “tainted.”

On Sunday, a campaign spokesperson for incumbent candidate for U.S. Senate Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, publicly called on Hassan to return the money to Thornton.

“In addition to being a top recipient of these straw donations, Governor Hassan is under scrutiny for ramming through major state contracts benefitting her campaign donors, and she previously took tens of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions which she was forced to return,” said Kelly for New Hampshire spokeswoman Liz Johnson in a statement. “This is a troubling pattern that raises serious ethical and legal questions, and Hassan must immediately return this money.”

New Hampshire Republican State Committee Chairman Jennifer Horn also called on Hassan to return the funds.

“Maggie Hassan has a long history of accepting illegal campaign contributions that raise serious questions about her political activity and the integrity of her administration,” said Horn. “In addition to her troubling pattern of illegal campaign contributions, the governor has become ensnared in a series of outrageous pay-to-play schemes that have rewarded her top donors with lucrative state contracts. Governor Hassan and Senator Shaheen need to immediately return their tainted donations from the Thornton Law Firm or voters will continue to have doubts about their judgement and integrity. In 2014, Governor Maggie Hassan was ordered by the New Hampshire Department of Justice to return tens of thousands of dollars from big labor unions who were attempting to curry favor with her administration.”

Labor union donation

In 2014, Gov. Hassan’s campaign was ordered by Attorney General Joseph Foster to return $24,000 in contributions from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers political action committee that came in one day after she filed for re-election.

The Friends of Maggie Hassan political action committee accepted a $25,000 contribution from the IBEW political action committee on June 13, one day after Hassan filed for re-election, exceeding the $1,000 contribution limit that takes effect once a candidate files.

The Globe reports a Thornton spokesman said its donation reimbursement program was reviewed by outside lawyers and complied with applicable campaign finance laws.

Federal Election Commission rules allow for partners in a law firm to make donations to political campaigns, but only if the money involved comes from the partner’s own finances.

“Using straw donors to make contributions is illegal,” Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and former general counsel of the FEC, told the Globe. “People can go and have gone to prison for this.”

pfeely@unionleader.com


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