---- — The past few weeks have been tough ones for Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua. But don’t waste any sympathy on the mayor. He has brought these troubles on himself.
The mayor is now drawing criticism nationwide for his decision to fire a Department of Public Works employee who was taking unpaid leave to spend time with his dying wife. The story of the recent death of Heather Sapienza and Lantigua’s treatment of her husband, Tom, has circulated nationally over the Internet and harsh criticisms of the mayor are pouring in.
Then, the political pal whom Lantigua hired to a similar job the same day he fired Tom Sapienza, got himself arrested on a charge of violating a restraining order.
That embarrassment left Lantigua with little choice but to fire his on-again, off-again friend, former state Rep. Jose Santiago.
And yesterday, Lantigua was hit with a double blow.
State Attorney General Martha Coakley announced a lawsuit against the mayor and his campaign treasurer, Ana Soto, over a $5,000 fine he has refused to pay for campaign finance violations.
Coakley wants the court to order Lantigua to pay the fine and file his 2011 campaign finance report.
Also, two legislators said they plan to file legislation to prevent local-level politicians who ignore state campaign finance laws from running for office. House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, and newly elected Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, are aiming the bill at Lantigua. Current law allows the state to block candidates for the Legislature and other high offices from the ballot if they have campaign finance violations, but not for local offices such as mayor.
The law requires political campaigns to file reports detailing contributions and expenses. Lantigua’s campaign failed to file its year-end report for 2011. The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance assessed daily fines on Lantigua for failing to file. The fines soon accumulated to a $5,000 maximum.
Lantigua has disregarded the campaign office’s attempts to collect the fine and the agency has turned the debt over to a private collector. Lantigua is personally responsible for paying the fine and cannot pass it off to his campaign organization.
“Political candidates by law are required to accurately report campaign contributions and expenditures,” Coakley said in her statement announcing the lawsuit. “These disclosures ensure the integrity of the electoral system and help voters make informed decisions about who to support. Mayor Lantigua was ordered repeatedly to file these disclosures and pay the subsequent fine, yet has refused to do so. We are now seeking a court order compelling him to make these fundamental disclosures required of all political candidates.”
Lantigua was elected mayor of Lawrence in 2009 and recently announced he plans to run for a second term this year.
This problem is entirely of Lantigua’s making. He is subject to the same campaign rules as everyone else. There is no reason for him not to file his 2011 campaign finance report and pay his fine. If he were to do so, this problem would go away.
Whether through pride, arrogance or sheer ineptitude, Lantigua has a track record of poor performance with his campaign finance reports. He was late in filing required reports during his first run for mayor in 2009.
Accurate, timely campaign finance reports are key to providing the transparency that helps the public keep politicians honest. Lantigua needs to pay his fine and file his reports. The sooner he does this, the better.