Gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes is running ads on Facebook that claim “he isn't taking corporate PAC or LLC contributions, so the public can be sure their governor is working for them — not himself.”
That message is consistent with Feltes’ record in the state Senate, where he’s sponsored bills to outlaw corporate campaign donations and to limit political activities of limited liability corporations.
But a review of Feltes’ campaign filings show that in his run for governor, he’s collected thousands of dollars from political action committees tied to industries like banking, real estate, car dealers, trial attorneys, doctors, and dentists. Gambling interests, several Concord lobbying firms, and corporate entities like Federal Express and Liberty Utilities also show up as campaign donors in his filings.
Feltes’s campaign has also taken advantage of what he’s derided as “the LLC loophole” by banking cash from three LLCs controlled by Ben Kelley, his own campaign treasurer. Kelley used the LLC loophole to donate $11,200 to Feltes’ campaign over the course of the past year. The per-person legal limit is $7,000, though wealthy donors can skirt that limit by donating additional money through LLCs. Three of those contributions, from three separate Kelley-linked LLCs — Jarbel Realty LLC, 21 Perley Street LLC and JP Irving LLC — came into the campaign on the same day last November.
The source of the money could only be pieced together by cross-checking LLC registration filings with campaign finance reports. And the donations to Feltes’s campaign — by his campaign's own treasurer — are the precise sort of arrangement Feltes himself has decried as undercutting “transparency and accountability” in how campaigns are funded.
Feltes, a Democrat, has made ending the loophole a centerpiece of his criticism of Gov. Chris Sununu, the incumbent he’s seeking to replace in November. In July, when Sununu vetoed Feltes’ most recent attempt (and his third in three years) to limit the ability of individuals to use multiple LLCs to funnel money to candidates, on the grounds it would limit speech, Feltes was quick to chastise.
“The people of New Hampshire should know who is funding elections,” Feltes, the Senate majority leader, said at the time. “Unfortunately today Governor Sununu sided with corporate special interests rather than Granite State voters.”
This week, the Feltes campaign offered varying explanations for the discrepancy between his campaign finance records, his advertising claims and his apparent change of heart on the role of corporate and LLC money in New Hampshire politics. In response to inquiries from NHPR Thursday, his campaign said it was returning up to $11,000 in LLC and other corporate contributions received after his official campaign announcement — Sept. 3, 2019 — but would keep those collected before that date.
“People are increasingly concerned about corporate money in politics,” Feltes said in a statement to NHPR Thursday. “Which is why in this campaign we are not accepting corporate contributions, we’ve returned any and all such contributions received to date.”
Later in the day, Feltes campaign manager Nick Taylor said the collection of corporate and LLC donations was, in fact, intentional: “The reality is, we made a decision at the start of this campaign to not unilaterally disarm and tie one hand behind our back,” he said. Taylor did not explain how that view squared with Feltes’ multiple efforts to outlaw LLC loophole contributions over the years.
Even so, Feltes’ haul from LLCs remains modest in comparison to what Sununu has raised though such donations over the years. Sununu’s latest filing shows that in the last half of 2019, he received more than $128,000, almost a quarter of his total for the period, from 10 LLCs connected to four developers in Manchester, Portsmouth, Dover and Salem.
That includes $35,000 from five LLCs linked to Kane Real Estate of Portsmouth; $33,000 from three LLCs under the control of Manchester developer Brady Sullivan; $25,000 from five LLCs linked to Dover developer Chad Kageleiry, and several LLCs tied to Tuscan Village founder Joseph Faro.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, a Democrat who is also running for governor, has taken no money from LLCs or direct corporate donations in this campaign. But in his previous campaigns for the Executive Council, he has received contributions from several PACs, including ones representing the insurance industry, the banking industry, auto dealers, and trial attorneys. Volinksy transferred $45,000 from his previous campaign account into his gubernatorial fundraising account last year.