Campaign Finance News:  Attorney General Issues New Coordination Decision

By: Jay Surdukowski

This month the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Election Law Unit issued an opinion on campaign finance which affirms a principle that campaign finance complaints need to have a minimum amount of facts in order to be ripe for investigation.  This decision echoes Republican State Committee v. Hassan where a similar pronouncement was made in August 2014.  In that letter, the Attorney General’s office stated campaign finance complaints would need to “meet a minimum threshold standard of alleging substantive facts that, if true, would constitute a violation of the election laws.”

In a nutshell, the New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP) filed a complaint in late-September alleging the Friends of Chris Sununu and Americans for Prosperity “may”  have been unlawfully coordinating.  In the campaign finance arena, groups doing independent expenditures in support of or against candidates are not allowed to coordinate those expenditures with campaigns.

The NHDP alleged that a coordinated communication may have occurred between the Governor’s campaign and AFP resulting in 7 University of New Hampshire fraternity members receiving a stipend from the Sununu campaign for field work. The NHDP alleged that one individual associated with the fraternity was also a grassroots trainer for AFP.

The attorney general notes that the brief complaint does not allege sufficient facts to support a plausible legal violation.  The NHDP has been given 30 days to rehabilitate its complaint, including identification of which laws were violated and providing supplemental facts and analysis.

The take-away is that the new Election Law Unit (which has only one lawyer and one investigator) is going to start exercising more discretion—especially when the volume of complaints sky-rockets in the months before a heated election.  Persons making complaints will need to back them up and not expect the Election Law Unit to do the leg-work of developing plausible allegations of illegal activity.