HAVERHILL — Just before this week's election, several city voters received an anonymous letter claiming some candidates acted inappropriately by accepting donations from companies that do business with the city.
Re-elected School Committee member Scott Wood, one of the candidates mentioned in the letter, said on Nov. 1 he learned that the Office of Campaign and Political Finance had launched an investigation into the source of the mailing.
"The mayor told me he had received a call from City Solicitor William Cox indicating OCPF was investigating the mailing," Wood said. "I'm glad they are investigating. I think voters saw through this scheme as evidenced by the election results."
Wood garnered 5,895 votes in Tuesday's municipal elections, coming in second place behind incumbent Gail Sullivan.
Jason Tait, director of communications for the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, did not confirm if the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance is investigating. He said that as an agency policy, he could not confirm or deny any investigation.
He did say it is not illegal for candidates to accept money from those who do business with the city.
"Individuals who work for vendors who provide services to a community or a school department are not prohibited from making campaign contributions of up to $1,000 per calendar year," Tait said.
However, the person who sent the mailing may by in the wrong, because it is illegal to fail to report when money is spent to oppose or support a candidate through such a mailing. It depends on the amount spent and the number of people involved in the mailing, according to state law.
Wood says that someone tried to sabotage his campaign by mailing false information to voters across the city about his receipt of campaign contributions.
"They wouldn't be investigating this mailing if it was legal," Wood said of the state.
Wood said he first became aware of the mailings the Wednesday prior to the Nov. 5 elections.
"I got calls from people who received them in the mail," he said. "They were upset that someone would send them something, anonymously, and indicated to me that it was dirty politics just prior to an election."
Wood said the mailing characterized him as doing something wrong, when he says he didn't. He said other candidates have accepted campaign contributions from employees of vendors who do business with the city or School Department and that it's a perfectly legal thing to do.
A check of the City Clerk's website shows that in 2017, Wood received two, $250 campaign contributions from Paul Whitcomb, an officer with Whitsons Culinary Group, which provides food services to the School Department.
That year, School Committeeman Paul Magliocchetti received a $100 contribution from Nelson Blinn, who operated Coppola Bus, which provided transportation services for the School Department. And School Committee member Rich Rosa received a $100 campaign contribution from Haverhill school physician Dr. John Maddox.
In 2019, School Committeeman Sven Amirian received a $300 contribution from the wife of Dr. John Maddox, as did School Committeewoman Gail Sullivan, who previously received a $250 contribution in 2015 from Maddox's wife. School Committee candidate Thomas Grannemann received a total of $2,000 in campaign contributions in 2019 from Dr. Maddox and his wife.
Wood noted that in 2017, he also received a campaign contribution from Richard Barnes, who Wood said was never paid by the School Department to speak to students about the dangers of substance abuse.
Wood said he was able to see one of the mailings for himself.
"I was sad to think whoever this faceless coward is would try to pull the wool over the eyes of Haverhill voters," he said. "There was no indication on the envelope as to where it was mailed from, and there was no signature or information on the letter as to who sent it."
Tait said that in general, any time money is raised or spent to support or oppose a candidate, public disclosure is required.
"A campaign finance report needs to be filed disclosing who spent the money, how they raised the money and where they spent the money," he said.
Tait said there are different types of expenditures and different reporting periods, but that in all cases, disclosure is required for money raised or spent to support or oppose a candidate, such as any money spent on the mailing sent to disparage Wood.
"It's a case-by-case basis, but the campaign finance law does allow for fines to be assessed and there are also situations where cases can be referred to the Attorney General for further review."
Tait said there are thresholds for independent expenditures of $250, such as when someone independently pays for a mailing. They would not have to disclose if the cost was $250 or less.
"Any time a group of two or more people pools its resources, however, it's a political committee and there is no threshold," he said.
He said all campaign finance activity in the state falls under OCPF's umbrella, even if the reports are filed locally, as in the case of School Committee and City Council races. Mayoral contributions must be filed with the state, he said.