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November 13, 2013

House passes bill to close 'Lantigua Loophole'

BOSTON — Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua — who set a notorious example of poor campaign finance reporting in Massachusetts — may inadvertently help pave the way for a new law that forces municipal candidates to take their record keeping more seriously.

A call for such a law gained major momentum yesterday when the House unanimously passed a bill by state Rep. Diana DiZoglio that would keep local candidates off the ballot for preliminary and final elections if they fail to file timely reports with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

“Certainly, the mayor’s issues were what prompted this legislation,” DiZoglio (D-Methuen) said in an interview yesterday.

“But this was an issue statewide. This is something that will impact municipal elections across Massachusetts,” she said.

DiZoglio, whose 14th Essex District includes a large section of Lawrence, said it was the first legislation she filed as a first-term lawmaker.

“It was expressed to me during my first week in office that this was a big concern,” she said, referring to the controversy surrounding Lantigua’s campaign finance reporting violations in early January. State Attorney General Martha Coakley had just sued the mayor for failing to file a 2011 campaign finance report and for not paying outstanding fines totaling $5,000 for those violations.

Existing state law already bars candidates for state and county office from getting on the ballot if they have outstanding campaign reporting violations and fines. DiZoglio’s bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, will hold candidates for municipal office to the same standard.

“While the issue was initially brought up from a local situation, it needed to be addressed statewide to prevent similar issues from arising in other communities,” DiZoglio said.

“The bill gained 31 co-sponsors during the first week and it’s only gained more support and momentum since that time. Not just from the Merrimack Valley, but around the Commonwealth. I had several colleagues approach me during the past several months who were hugely supportive of bringing more transparency and accountability to government at the municipal level. And when you get all the Democrats and Republicans to agree on something, you’re in good shape,” she said.

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