It appears two groups opposing the Community Preservation Act may have violated the state’s campaign finance laws by missing the first deadline to report campaign contributions, but the law is long and confusing.
For candidates for elected office – local or state – the reporting times are eight days before the election, eight days after, 30 days following the election and Jan. 20 of the next year. For political committees there are different reporting days.
However, neither the Concerned Watertown Homeowners nor the Watertown Strong Schools group are political committees, since they did not form to support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure.
They appear to fit under the Section 22 of the law applying to individuals or corporations making contributions. This section also includes “Any person or the treasurer of a corporation, association, organization or other group of persons, other than a political committee organized under section 5.”
These groups must file reports of campaign donations received, money spent on the campaign and in-kind donations. The reports must be submitted eight days before the election (this election that would be Oct. 31), eight days after the election (Nov. 16) and 30 days after the election, and on Jan. 20 of the year following the election.
The Town Clerk’s office received campaign finance reports from Invest in Watertown, the group supporting the CPA, but not from either the Concerned Watertown Homeowners or Watertown Strong Schools.
John Labadini, president of the Concerned Watertown Homeowners, said he did not realize he had to meet all the deadlines.
“Our understanding is that according to form CPF M-102 we have 30 days after the election to file,” Labadini said.
Watertown Strong Schools may not have to file a report. Section 22 is clear that an individual has to file if they spend or donated more than $250 to support or oppose a ballot question. For other groups or organization, no dollar amount is stated, so it may mean any contribution and expenditure must be reported.
The group has spend only a couple hundred dollars according to one member.
If it is determined there has been a violation, the section does have a list of possible fines and potential jail time. There is no required punishment. The maximum a group can be fined is $50,000, and the maximum penalty for “any officer, director or agent” of such a group is up to $10,000 and a year in jail.