For the first time ever, the New Hampshire Attorney General's office is auditing all state-level fundraising reports to make sure they're filed on time and include all the right information. And in its initial review, the office found “deficiencies” in 73 of the 142 filings that were submitted for the June 20 reporting deadline.
At this point, at least, the Attorney General’s office isn't issuing any penalties based on these mistakes. Instead, they gave all campaigns a week to correct their reports and file new ones — but they also warned that future mistakes could result in fines or other consequences.
“We just sent out warnings and did not issue any fines,” Assistant Attorney General Matt Broadhead, the state’s lead attorney on election enforcement matters, wrote in an email to NHPR last week.
Among those receiving warning letters were the campaigns of two major candidates running for governor: incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and Democrat Steve Marchand. According to copies of the warning letters shared with NHPR, both campaigns didn't include required details about all of their donors. Marchand also failed to properly alphabetize his contributions in accordance with state law.
The full list of warning letters issued by the attorney general’s office demonstrates that neither party can claim superiority on campaign finance compliance. The state Democratic and Republican parties, the New Hampshire Young Democrats, the New Hampshire Young Republicans, and each of the two major parties’ committes to support candidates in the House and the Senate all received warning letters and were asked to refile their reports.
The fact that these reports are subject to any kind of official oversight marks a significant change in the state’s approach to election law enforcement. In the past, candidates who file late or incomplete forms have rarely been punished, because the state has relied largely on the public to flag any potential issues — and few people outside the political world take the time to read through the forms closely, if at all.
But in recent months, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office gave ample notice that it planned to scrutinize these filings more closely than it ever had before.
In a report filed with the Legislature and then presented publicly to the Ballot Law Commission in May, the office said it planned to review the financial reports of every candidate and political committee active in this year’s elections, to ensure that they include all of the basic information they’re required to under state law. Additionally, the Attorney General’s office said it planned to conduct random audits of those same forms throughout this campaign season.
The office also informed the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office, as well as the state Republican, Democrat and Libertarian parties, of these changes in a letter sent several weeks before the June 20 filing deadline. That letter also included a checklist of all of the information the office would be looking for as it reviewed the reports.