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Attorney General says it's legal:

New York GOP donor gives $100,000 to NH pro-gay marriage PAC

Senior Political Reporter

September 08. 2012 2:06AM

0MANCHESTER -- In an opinion that could have a major impact on the current and future political campaigns, the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office says individuals can now make unlimited financial contributions to New Hampshire political action committees that make independent expenditures on behalf of state candidates.

The first PAC to take advantage of the new interpretation of the state's political contributions law is the New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality PAC.

Two weeks ago, the pro-same sex marriage group received a $100,000 contribution from Paul Singer, a New York-based hedge fund manager who is a major supporter of Mitt Romney, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and GOP candidates nationwide, as well as gay marriage.

The NRFE PAC reported in a Sept. 5 state-required filing it spent more than $94,000 of the Singer contribution on direct mail on behalf of 40 Republican New Hampshire House members who are seeking reelection and one who is now running for the state Senate -- Rep. John Reagan, who is in a primary trying to succeed the retiring Sen. Jack Barnes of Raymond.

All those being helped opposed an effort in the Legislature this year to repeal the state's gay marriage law.

Long-standing state law had limited the amount of money an individual can contribute to any political committee to $5,000.

But an Aug. 1 letter from Assistant Attorney General Matthew Mavrogeorge to Secretary of State William Gardner cites the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the landmark Citizens United case and subsequent federal court rulings.

Mavrogeorge counsels that as a result of those rulings, Gardner's office should no longer enforce the $5,000 limit 'against political committees that only make independent expenditures.'

Circuit courts that have addressed the issue since the Citizens United case 'have, to date, found all such (state) laws to be unconstitutional,' Mavrogeorge wrote.

In an interview, Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said, 'After the Citizens United decision, courts have interpreted that decision as saying that political contributions, if they are to an independent expenditure PAC, one that is not affiliated with a particular campaign, that you (a state law) can't limit the contributions.'

The Attorney General's opinion does not apply to those who contribute to candidate committees.

The chairman of New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality is Sean Owen, the president and CEO of Wedu, a Manchester- and New York-based strategic marketing firm.

He was active in the successful effort in the Legislature this year to defeat an attempt to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law.

'We had said at the end of the legislative session when the repeal effort failed that we would support a good number of the Republicans that had helped us in the fight,' Owen said Friday.

'The intent now is to make sure that people understand there are Republicans out there who have a different point of view, and we are going to support them and protect them,' said Owen.

Owen said he has never met Singer.

'He has been a big supporter of efforts around the country that are pro-gay marriage and other Republican interest groups as well,' Owen said.

'And he's closely tied to a number of other organizations that support us,' he said.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, Singer gave the national GOP $1 million to help underwrite its recent convention in Tampa. The story also notes that he supports gay marriage, a position that is 'at odds with the ticket' of Romney and Paul Ryan, who, the story says, Singer once tried to convince to run for President himself.

And according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics', employees at Singer's New York-based hedge fund management firm, Elliott Management Corp., 'gave over $95,000' to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte's 2010 campaign, 'and Singer himself gave $3,142.'

Collectively, Elliott Management was 'her top donor' in her Senate race, the Center said.

The Center also reported in July:

'Singer has given $1 million to pro-Romney super PAC Restore our Future in the 2012 cycle, but has also been active in promoting gay rights; he supported New York's recent legalization of gay marriage and seeded the new American Unity PAC -- a group dedicated to supporting Republican candidates who favor gay marriage -- with another $1 million.'

Ayotte opposes gay marriage.

A source familiar with the NHRFE PAC said all of the mailings on behalf of the House candidates it supports are positive.

The mailers do not specifically cite the lawmaker's vote against repealing the same-sex marriage law, but refer to the issue in phrases that say the candidate is supportive of 'preserving individual, parental and family rights; holding true to the values of limited government.'

Another phrase used in a mailer is: 'Guarding the high quality of life and individual freedoms.'

Still another is: 'Protect individual freedoms and personal responsibility.'

These phrases are mixed with others that apply to other issues, such as, 'Won't bow down to the tax-and-spend crowd,' and, 'Balancing the budget and living within our means.'

One of three mailers sent out on behalf of Senate candidate Reagan call him 'a passionate voice for individual freedom and personal responsibility.'

The conservative anti-same sex marriage advocacy group Cornerstone Action issued a statement late today contending that the Singer contribution was 'illegal' and that it had filed an election law complaint with the Secretary of State's office.

'Any donation above $5,000 is illegal in New Hampshire under RSA 664:4,' the Cornerstone press release said.

Shannon McGinley, Cornerstone's active executive director, told the Attorney General's opinion does not change the law.

'Just because the Attorney General doesn't enforce the law doesn't mean the contribution isn't, in fact, illegal,' she said. 'What they did broke the law. Period.

'Until the General Court amends or repeals the law, it will still be illegal to accept contributions over $5,000,' McGinley said.

McGinley pointed to a portion of the Mavrogeorge letter that says, 'Whether the statute can be enforced to restrict contributions to any political committee is a fact-specific determination that can only be made on a case-by-case basis.'

'I think they are saying, 'Think about the spirit of the law,' and when this is 19 times more than the limit, that is a clear violation of the spirit of the law,' she said.

McGinley said she did not know, yet, whether Cornerstone will challenge the Attorney General's interpretation.

A source close to NHRFE said, 'They have defamed us and we will pursue our legal options to protect the organization's reputation against these outrageous and unfounded accusations.'

The incumbent Republican House candidates being supported by the NHRFE PAC are Peter Bolster, Karen Umberger, Adam Hopkins, Susan Emerson, Richard Dwinell, Frank Sterling, Bob Fredette, Russell Day, Cal Pratt, Todd Weeks, Keith Murphy, Kelleigh Domaingue Murphy, Win Hutchinson, Mike Ball, Steve Vaillancourt, Don LeBrun, Michael Reed, Bob Haefner, Shawn Jasper, Charlene Takesian and Jon Maltz.

Also, Russ Ober, Matt Swank, Ken Kreis, Priscilla Lockwood, David Hess, Kathy Hoelzel, Gene Charron, Karen Keegan-Hutchinson, Sherm Packard, John Sytek, Ronald Belanger, David Welch, Tim Copeland, Pat Abrami, Robert Boyle, Marie Sapienza, Robert Kropel, Mike Castaldo and Julie Brown.

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