EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 15, 2012

Sheriff Cousins: No more cash from workers

Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins said yesterday he will stop soliciting campaign contributions from hundreds of his rank-and-file employees following allegations — which he denied — that he pressures them to give, including by blocking their promotions if they don't.

The allegations were broadcast Monday night by WBZ-TV, a CBS affiliate in Boston, which reported that 300 sheriff department employees and their family members gave a total of $400,000 to Cousins' campaign organization since 2005. The station cited Cousins' financial disclosure forms and the eight current or past sheriff's department employees it interviewed, none of whom was identified in the newscast.

"Everyone is expected to donate," one of the anonymous sources said during the news broadcast, whose voice was garbled and whose face was silhouetted by the station. "If you don't donate, you're not promoted, you don't get anywhere."

State campaign finance law allows elected officials to solicit employees for contributions, but prohibits them from soliciting the gifts in government buildings or acting against employees who say no. The law also bars elected officials from using government resources to help them make solicitations off the job, including personnel or other records that contain employee contact information.

Cousins, a Republican, confirmed the WBZ-TV report that $400,000 of the $1.2 million he has raised since 2005 came from his employees and their family members. But he denied unduly pressuring employees to give and said he never solicits them on the job or uses department records to obtain their contact information.

He said he gets contact information for employees from a public web site operated by the state comptroller. Reminded that the web site does not include employee addresses or phone numbers, Cousins said he obtains the information by asking employees for it when they show up to volunteer at his campaign offices.

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