EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 16, 2013

Bills to close 'Lantigua Loophole' get hearing

Candidates who don't file financial forms would be dropped from ballots

By Keith Eddings

---- — BOSTON — For longer than a year, Mayor William Lantigua disregarded demands by state election officials to file forms detailing fund-raising and spending by his campaign organization and refused to pay the fines that mounted as the deadlines passed.

Lantigua filed the forms and paid fines that reached the $5,000 maximum in January after state Attorney General Martha Coakley sued him and his campaign treasurer — his sister, Ana Soto — to force their compliance.

Yesterday, a joint state House and Senate committee held a public hearing on two bills that could deal more efficiently with local candidates who fail to disclose the money they’re raising, where it’s coming from and how they’re spending it.

The bills would simply keep them off the ballot.

The hearing drew just one speaker, who referred to Lantigua but did not name him as she spoke, but later handed out a prepared statement that identified the Lawrence mayor as part of the problem.

“Of course we all know of a recent incident of a mayor refusing to file a campaign finance report,” Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said in her prepared statement, which went on to say Lantigua still has not filed the forms or paid the fines (in fact, he has).

“The state of Massachusetts should not allow such overt flaunting of the law,” Wilmot said in her prepared remarks. “It disrupts democracy and eliminates fairness in the election process. Disclosing political funds helps voters make informed decisions and can expose potential conflict of interests and misuse of campaign funds.”

Lantigua could not be reached after the committee hearing.

State law already provides that state and county candidates who fail to file campaign financial disclosure forms can be kept off the ballot. The law is administered by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which has limited jurisdiction over local candidates such as mayors, selectmen and school committee members, and so cannot punish those who don’t file the disclosure forms.

The two bills the Joint Committee on Election Laws is considering would close that loophole by also keeping local candidates who fail to file off the ballot. One bill is sponsored by Rep. Diane DiZoglio, a freshman Democrat from Methuen. The other is sponsored by Bradley Jones, a North Reading Republican who is House minority leader.

“We need to have consistency between our state and local laws regarding ballot access and campaign finance regulations,” DiZoglio said after yesterday’s hearing. “We should all be held to the same standards. This is an issue of accountability and transparency.”

DiZoglio and Jones filed their bills shortly after Coakley filed her suit against Lantigua. Jones informally attached Lantigua’s name to his bill, saying it is an attempt to close what he calls the “Lantigua Loophole.”

The bills have wide support among local legislators. Besides DiZoglio, Reps. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, and James Lyons, R-Andover, have signed on to at least one of the two bills, as has Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.