AFTER THE upcoming city elections, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen should consider whether the city charter’s campaign finance provisions need revising.
There are two major problems with the finance provisions: there are no real penalties for failure to comply, and there are no limits on how much donors can give candidates.
According to the reports on the city clerk’s website, several candidates have yet to comply with all of the reporting requirements. There is no excuse for that, since the required information is not complicated. Just keep track of who gives you money and how you spend it.
Candidates and political committees need to register with the city clerk. If they raise and/or spend more than $500, they need to file a report listing donors and expenditures. Reports should be filed within 10 days before and after both the primary and general elections. If a candidate or committee does not have a combined $500 in expenditures and contributions, they need to file a report saying that they have not reached that threshold.
Most of the candidates have filed correctly, but there are some who are not following the rules. That is irresponsible; if someone wants to be an alderman or a school committee member, they should comply with the charter.
According to the charter, a candidate is not entitled to nomination or election until the reports or statements have been filed. The ones who have yet to comply with the primary reporting deadlines probably will file before the general election. But we are more than two weeks past the primary reporting deadlines.
There usually also are political committees that do not comply. For example, this year Granite PAC sent out a flyer to selected Manchester voters before the primary. It had a nice color photo of Gov. Chris Sununu endorsing mayoral candidate Victoria Sullivan (we are not related).
When the state’s chief executive appears with a candidate who wants to be mayor of the state’s largest city, the political committee distributing the piece should follow the rules. Granite PAC did not. It did not register with the city, and it did not file its reports.
When this was brought to the attention of the city clerk, a letter was sent to Granite PAC informing the committee of the requirements.
I suspect compliance by candidates and committees would be better if the charter provided for automatic daily fines or some other financial penalty.
Then there is the lack of contribution limits, which is absurd. Donors can only give, at most, $7,000 to candidates for governor, and only $5,600 to federal candidates for President, Senate and the House. Yet Manchester allows individual donors to give tens of thousands of dollars to city and school district candidates.
While eyepopping donations are not an issue this year, at least one former mayor did receive donations of $15,000 or more in his campaigns. Big money should not play that kind of role in city elections.
When the Charter Commission drafted the charter, we (I was a member) thought we included donation limits. The charter says state statutes relating to state elections, including political expenditures and contributions, apply to municipal elections to the extent practicable.
However, we erred in giving the city clerk and the city solicitor the authority to determine the applicability of the various state election laws. The former clerk and former solicitor decided that the state contribution limits did not apply to our city elections. That decision was wrong.
But, as a result, there are no caps on contributions to city candidates. That needs to change.
Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.