EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 11, 2013

Lantigua, Rivera lead in the race for campaign cash

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua and City Councilor Daniel Rivera are running almost even in the race for campaign contributions and are far outpacing the field of other candidates in what they’re raising and spending.

Lantigua’s more robust spending has left Rivera with nearly $7,000 more to spend as they head into Tuesday’s preliminary election, when the top two of the six candidates in the race will move on to the general election on Nov. 5.

Lantigua began the year with $15,683 in the bank and raised another $38,865. He spent $33,777, leaving him with $20,771 on Aug. 30, the financial disclosure report he filed late Monday shows.

Rivera began the year with $14,131 and raised $36,596. He spent $23,570, leaving him with $27,157, his disclosure report shows.

Three other candidates lag in what they have raised and spent.

State Rep. Marcos Devers has raised $10,625, including $4,000 he lent his campaign. He also has received $3,300 in contributions other than cash, most of it from talk show hosts on local Spanish-language radio shows who run his ads without charge. He has $6,005 on hand.

City firefighter Juan “Manny” Gonzalez has raised $5,073, including a $1,333 loan from himself. He has $2,417 on hand.

Inventor James O’Donoghue raised $1,236, including a $700 loan from a family member. He has $38 in the bank.

Accountant Nester De Jesus did not file a report by Tuesday night’s deadline.

Lantigua joined the other candidates in filing their reports with the State Office of Campaign and Political Finance a few hours before Tuesday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline, but the mayor’s report is likely to receive added scrutiny from OCPF and Attorney General Martha Coakley.

On Aug. 27, Coakley filed a suit against Lantigua accusing him of a laundry list of campaign finance violations dating to 2008, including allegations that he accepted illegal cash contributions; failed to disclose in-kind services provided by a catering hall, a weekly newspaper and a radio station; and allowed a city hall secretary — now his wife — and a Methuen cop to serve as financial officers in his campaign. Public employees are not allowed to hold official positions in campaign organizations or to solicit donations.

Coakley is seeking at least $27,832 in restitution from Lantigua, and fines that could total tens of thousands of dollars more.

The payments would come on top of a $5,000 fine Lantigua paid earlier this year for failing to file a report detailing fundraising and spending by his campaign organization in 2011, a year when he was not on the ballot but spent heavily to elect favored slates of candidates to the City Council and School Committee. He filed the report in January 2013, a year after it was due.

Lantigua did not return a phone call yesterday.

His report shows 173 people contributed to his re-election effort so far this year, including 29 who identified themselves as city employees and several nightclub owners and city contractors. His biggest contributors are David and Erica Walton, the owners of Patriot Ambulance, and four of their family members and employees, who gave a total of $2,950. David Walton testified before a grand jury that indicted Leonard Degnan, Lantigua’s former chief of staff, for allegedly pressuring the company to send ambulances to a city in the Dominican Republic whose residents vote heavily by absentee ballot in Lawrence elections.

David Walton could not be reached yesterday.

Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonialla, who has been indicted on other corruption charges and who managed Lantigua’s 2009 campaign, does not appear on the mayor’s list of contributors. His wife, Lydia, gave $300.

At least nine city police officers also contributed to Lantigua’s campaign this year, including Lt. Shawn Conway and Capt. Scott McNamara, who both have applied for the police chief’s job following the resignation of former Chief John Romero. Conway gave $500. McNamara gave $350.

Among Lantigua’s major expenses is $1,050 he paid to Eastman Fishing in Seabrook, N.H., for an expense he describes as a “recreation trip.” Lantigua is an avid fisherman.

Jason Tait, a spokesman for the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, would not comment on the expense. Speaking generally, Tait said “an expenditure can be made to enhance the political future of a candidate, so long as the expenditure is not primarily personal.”

Lantigua also spent about $6,000 on what his report describes as “DOB cards.” The report says the expense was incurred at the Post Office on Common Street, but is not further explained. Melissa Lohnes, a spokeswoman for the Post Office in Boston, could not explain the expense.

Lantigua spent about $6,200 more on campaign events at Rio’s, the Copa and the Relief’s In, and on decorations and an orchestra, his report shows. He is paying $1,200 a month for his campaign headquarters on Essex Street.

Councilor Rivera’s report shows about 240 donors, led by former state Rep. David Torrisi and his parents, sister, brother, wife and two cousins, who gave a total of $2,200.

“He’s a close friend,” Torrisi said. “We were in each other’s wedding parties. He’s a great friend and he’ll be a great mayor.”

None of Rivera’s contributors self-identifies as a city employee, but Rivera said one is. Crystal Johnson, a parking attendant, gave $25.

“When you’re talking about reform, it says a lot,” Rivera said. “You can’t take financial support for your campaign from city workers and expect to change the way City Hall works.”

Rep. Devers’ $4,000 loan to his campaign makes him his biggest supporter. His wife, Victoria, a teacher in Lawrence public schools, gave $200.

“I know I’m carrying a lot of the burden myself, but we’re working hard to compensate,” Devers said about the loan to himself. “I’ve invested a lot of money (in earlier campaigns). My name is out there and my reputation and track record is what counts.”

Gonzalez, O’Donoghue and De Jesus did not return phone calls yesterday.