LAWRENCE — State. Rep. Paul Adams attempted to disguise the source of up to $39,000 in campaign contributions from his parents and brother when he described the money as a loan from himself in reports he filed with the state in his 2010 race for the Statehouse, election officials said yesterday.
Adams and his parents and brother agreed to pay $4,000 in fines as part of an agreement with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance to settle charges that the cover-up violated two provisions of election law. The settlement also prohibits Adams' campaign organization from repaying the $45,000 Adams said he lent it, which blocks him from soliciting contributions to pay himself back.
Adams, 30, a Republican elected to the 17th Essex House seat as part of a GOP wave in Massachusetts two years ago, did not return a phone call yesterday, but appeared defiant in a statement included in the five-page settlement.
In it, Adams said the gifts were never intended as campaign contributions and alleges they are victims of "a statutory scheme" that deprives them "of a most basic right to provide financial support to a child or sibling merely because that child or sibling might at some unspecified future date become a candidate for public office."
Adams received the first of the gifts, $10,000 from his brother, Ammon Adams, three weeks before he announced his candidacy on March 16, 2010, his financial disclosure forms show. The last of the gifts, $6,000 from his parents, Lynette and Steven Adams, came on Aug. 6, 2010, five weeks before Adams won a primary for the Republican nomination.
At the time, the district included parts of Lawrence, Andover and Tewksbury, but its lines were redrawn last year so that it now includes only Lawrence and Andover. Adams moved to Lawrence to stay in the district.
In all, Adams reported lending his campaign $50,000 in 2010, which OCPF said included the $39,000 he received from his family that year as well as earlier gifts from family members and savings from a $40,000-a-year political consulting job that Adams said he quit to run for the House.
Adams told OCPF he had $30,000 in "personal funds" before his family members started writing him checks early in 2010, the settlement says. That appears to contradict the Statement of Financial Interests Adams filed with the state Ethics Commission after declaring his candidacy, which shows he owned no securities or other investments worth more than $1,000 as of Dec. 31, 2009.
Regardless, OCPF focused its investigation on the $39,000 his parents and brother gave "in a series of checks to the candidate in 2010." The agency acknowledged that Adams' parents had a history of giving him money, but also noted that the giving stopped in 2007 before resuming in 2010, when Adams said he told them he was quitting his job as a consultant to an anti-gay marriage organization so that he could either attend graduate school or run for office.
OCPF also noted that Ammon Adams had never given his brother money before 2010.
"The timing of the checks written to the candidate from his family, in particular the $13,000 portion received from the candidate's brother, who did not have an established long-term pattern of family giving to the candidate, supports the conclusion that the payments were intended to assist the candidate's campaign and were, therefore, contributions," OCPF said in the settlement.
State election law caps individual contributions to Statehouse candidates at $500 a year. The cap covers everyone but the candidates themselves and their spouses.
The agency fined Adams $1,000, his parents $1,000 and his brother $2,000. Steven Adams was his son's campaign treasurer and is a drug industry consultant, Adams' financial forms show. His brother works for Nomura Securities, a Manhattan financial firm, the forms show. His mother is a student.
Settlement follows Eagle-Tribune report
Adams' settlement caps a 14-month OCPF investigation that began after The Eagle-Tribune published stories just after his election questioning the source of the $50,000 Adams reported lending himself despite never having held a full-time job. The money helped him far outspend Sal Tabit in the GOP primary and Democrat Pat Commane in the Nov. 2, 2010, general election.
Adams initially said he had saved the money by living frugally and investing smartly. He later acknowledged it was a gift from his family, but said the gifts did not violate campaign finance law even though most of it was given to him in the days before he announced his candidacy.
He dismissed the Eagle-Tribune stories as slanderous and said he would "have plenty more to say on this subject once the review is complete."
Yesterday, Commane said Adams should have been more familiar with the limits on campaign donations given his claim to a resume that he said included volunteer and paid work on "dozens of local, state and national campaigns."
"It's a straight-forward law," Commane said about the donor limits. "There's not a lot of wiggle room."
"He's a young man but he's worked in many campaigns," said John Walsh, chairman of the state Democratic Committee. "The voters have a right to ask whether Mr. Adams believes there's one set of rules for everybody else and another set for Mr. Adams."
The OCPF referred its findings to state Attorney General Martha Coakley last summer. She declined to prosecute.