Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign committee, Friends of Maggie Hassan, accepted an illegal campaign contribution in June, state Attorney General Joe Foster (a Hassan appointee) determined last week. He ordered her to return one illegal donation. But he let her keep two others, and his office will not say why.
Anyone thinking of running for office in New Hampshire can open an “exploratory” committee and accept unlimited donations. But when he or she officially declares a run, state law limits contributions to the candidate’s campaign committee to no more than $5,000 if the candidate agrees to abide by state-set spending caps, or $1,000 if he does not agree to the caps. On June 12, Hassan declared her candidacy and announced the same day that she would not abide by the spending caps.
That day, her campaign was given two $10,000 union PAC donations — from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
Foster ruled the contributions legal because he decided that declarations of official candidacy do not take effect until midnight.
Another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), donated $25,000 on the same day, but the funds did not transfer until the next day, therefore Foster ruled the donation illegal. Hassan had to return $24,000 ($25,000 minus the $1,000 candidates can legally keep).But there is more.
None of the three union PACs was registered legally under state law when it donated to Hassan’s campaign. Each one happened to donate to Hassan on the same day despite not being legally registered, then happened to remember to register days later. Though state law requires PACs to register with the state before spending $500 or more, Foster did not order all of the donations returned. Why not?
Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice, the AG’s appointed spokesman on this matter, would not say. “I’m not going to comment on our thought process in all of this,” she told us. Rice did tell us that it is a felony for any non-person (a PAC, for instance) to violate any part of the state’s campaign donation regulations. Foster himself determined on Friday that Gov. Hassan was the recipient of three union PAC donations made in violation of the law. He let her keep two and part of a third. As for the PACs, he sent them “cease and desist” letters, which merely declare “Don’t do it again until you’re legal,” Rice said. But the PACs were already legal when the letters were sent, so there was no penalty for violating a state law that classifies any violation as a felony.
The AG’s office needs to explain why Hassan can keep illegal donations and why the PACs were allowed to get away with making them. The people (and other campaigns) deserve an explanation so they know which illegal donations this attorney general will allow candidates to keep, which must be returned, and which will draw no punishment.