EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 11, 2013

Finegold endorses campaign reform bills

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — Legislation designed to keep local candidates with outstanding campaign violations and fines off the election ballot picked up more support yesterday from State Sen. Barry Finegold, a well-known political ally of Mayor William Lantigua.

Lantigua, Lawrence mayor since January 2010, was sued Tuesday by Attorney General Martha Coakley for failing to file a 2011 campaign finance report and pay a resulting $5,000 campaign fine.

Massaschusetts law already bars candidates for state office from getting on the ballot if they have lingering campaign violations and fines. Freshman Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, and State Rep. Bradley Jones, the House Republican leader from North Reading, are drafting similar bills that would extend the ballot prohibition to local candidates as well.

Lantigua recently announced he’s running for a second term as mayor.

Coakley supports the legislation, she said Tuesday after announcing her office was suing Lantigua over the missing report and unpaid fine. State Rep. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, also supports the legislation, he said.

Finegold, an Andover Democrat, said he hasn’t read either draft yet. However, Finegold said he would support legislation that brings consistency between state and local laws. “The idea of consistency, I do believe, is a good one,” Finegold said.

In early 2010, Finegold was a vocal proponent of legislation that allowed Lawrence, under Lantigua’s new leadership, to borrow up to $35 million privately to repair its troubled finances.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill into law on March 31, 2010 after it was approved by both the House of Reprensentatives and Senate.

In Coakley’s lawsuit, Lantigua is sued individually, meaning he cannot use any city resources or city attorneys to defend him against the litigation. Since it’s a civil lawsuit, Lantigua has 20 days from the time he’s officially served with the lawsuit to file a response.

Lantigua has not commented publicly on the lawsuit, the strongest law enforcement action taken against him personally to date. It’s also unclear who he will hire to defend him against the suit.

Despite repeated requests from the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Lantigua refused to file the campaign finance report by the due date, Jan. 20, 2011. He was subjected to a $25 per day fine that maxed out at $5,000. OCPF turned the debt over to a collection agency last summer.

Tuesday, Coakley called Lantigua’s ongoing defiance of campaign finance law, “unacceptable ignorance on his part. There is no excuse for it.”

The suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, asked the court to order Lantigua to file the 2011 report listing his campaign contributions and expenditures with the campaign finance office and pay the $5,000 fine out of his own pocket — not with campaign finance funds.

The suit also named Ana Soto, Lantigua’s sister and campaign treasurer.

The attorney general’s suit is the second financial hit for Lantigua already this year. Last week, he was hit with a $5,475 lien for failing to pay personal income tax. However, the lien was released two days later. A DOR spokeswoman, citing confidentiality laws, could not say if the lien was paid off or released for other reasons.

Lantigua and his administration also remain the focus of a state and federal probe involving allegations of big rigging, suspicious out of country travel, an illegal car swap and shipment of a trash truck, two ambulances and a school bus to the Dominican Republic.

State Rep. Marcos Devers, a Lawrence Democrat, could not be reached for comment for this story.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.