Dirty Politics Invade Haverhill Election; Some Tactics May Have Violated State Law

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News photograph.)

Editor’s Note: WHAV’s policy against outside “for” and “against” political stories was in effect from last Friday night until the close of polls at 8 p.m., Tuesday. The policy was adopted out of fairness to those candidates that might not have enough time to respond before the election.

In the days before Haverhill’s local election, certain households received anonymous flyers accusing certain elected officials of ethics violations, but the mailing itself may have been illegal.

The unknown authors suggested one or two elected officials improperly accepted campaign donations from those doing business with the city. However, based on what was shared, the targeted officeholders appear to have followed rules set by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the Elections Division of the Secretary of the Commonwealth and Ethics Commission.

“Campaign finance law does not prohibit a candidate from receiving contributions from individuals in the city,” said Jason A. Tait, Campaign and Political Finance spokesman.

On the other hand, state and local officials are trying to determine the identity of the person or group that sent the flyer since such mailings are regulated. Tait explained mailings of 5,000 or more pieces must contain the names of those who paid for it. A mailing falling below 5,000 pieces might still require an independent group or another candidate to reveal the spending within 24 hours if costs exceed $250. In this instance, the mailing featured an envelope with a first-class stamp and a two-sided, black and white flyer inside.

The communication came during what was, arguably, the dirtiest local election is recent memory. A separate, anonymous emailing asks “Is it proper for Haverhill’s elected officials to accept campaign contributions from individuals with business ties to the City/School contracts? Will they continue to do so?” It targeted two elected officials and identified specific contributions, but omitted at least eight others who received money from one of the named donors. There were also allegations of campaign sign stealing from a number of candidates, untruthful or misleading social media posts and a political rally mischaracterized as merely an awareness drive.

A WHAV review of candidate finance reports reveals every incumbent that ran in the local election received contributions from people doing business with Haverhill. Several of the challengers also received donations from people representing companies with paid city contracts.

Debra O’Malley, spokeswoman for Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin, said a law against anonymous election mailings was repealed in 2006. The legislature overturned then-Gov. Mitt Romney’s veto of the repeal of the “Unsigned Circulars and Posters” act. Repeal, however, had no effect on campaign finance or required ethics disclosures.

According to the state Ethics Commission, elected officials are required to disclose donations that would create a “reasonable impression” of a conflict of interest. However, filings of campaign finance reports listing donors satisfies the requirement. The law does prohibit accepting campaign donations if there is an agreement an elected official will vote a certain way in exchange.

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