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Anti-wind farm group punished for violations

The primary opposition group in the fight against the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm and one of its former board members have agreed to pay the state $22,500 to settle a complaint over radio ads that state officials say broke campaign finance laws.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound also has agreed not to engage in any electioneering communications through 2014, according to a disposition agreement reached with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The agreement, which was signed Monday, stems from $32,561 worth of radio ads the alliance ran before the 2010 gubernatorial election that advocated against the proposal by Cape Wind Associates to build 130 turbines in the Sound.

The ad asked listeners if they were tired of paying high electric bills and stated that if Gov. Deval Patrick had his way, “172 communities across Massachusetts will soon be paying even more.” “‰

The ad hammered Patrick for helping National Grid sign “a backroom, no-bid deal” with Cape Wind and asked listeners to join the other gubernatorial candidates who opposed the project.

The ad’s reference to Patrick and his challengers violated campaign finance laws that require that spending money on such advertising must be reported within a certain time period, according to the agreement.

After being contacted by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance about the violation, the alliance filed a disclosure report in which it listed three people who paid for the ads, including Christopher Egan, a former alliance board member and then finance chairman for the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker.

The Egan family, which owns property on Great Island in West Yarmouth, is a longtime financial supporter of the alliance’s efforts to defeat Cape Wind. Between 2001 and 2009 the family had donated nearly $1 million to the cause.

“Based on the timing and content of the advertisements and Egan’s position with the Baker committee, (the Office of Campaign and Political Finance) concluded that the alliance made a coordinated electioneering communications expenditure,” according to a press release from the state announcing the disposition agreement.

Coordinated electioneering communications are considered contributions and are limited to $500 per year, making a $10,000 payment by Egan for the radio ads a violation of campaign finance law, according to the agreement.

The alliance contends that it had arranged for the radio ads “without any intention to intervene or otherwise participate in a campaign for public office,” according to the agreement.

The nonprofit organization argued that it was unaware of the requirements of the state campaign finance laws and that its failure to file reports required under the law was inadvertent.

“It was a relatively new reporting requirement,” alliance President and Chief Executive Officer Audra Parker said Monday. “Once we were made aware that there was some reporting to fill out, we complied with it.”

Alliance officials believed they were engaged in issue advertising, which is allowed under the law, she said.

“Unfortunately we needed to settle it to get on with business,” she said of the agreement.

The alliance has behaved for 10 years as though rules just don’t apply to it, Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers wrote Monday in an email to the Times.

“It is a good day to see them held accountable for one of their misdeeds and for the public to be properly compensated,” he said.

Cape Wind recently reached an agreement to sell more than a quarter of its power to NStar, which provides electricity to customers on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. National Grid agreed in 2010 to buy half of the project’s power.

The company still needs financing for the project and must secure a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration after a federal judge threw out a prior approval by the agency. There are also lawsuits brought by the alliance and other Cape Wind opponents challenging the federal government’s approval of the project.

Cape Wind officials say they hope to begin construction by 2013.