August 20, 2013

Windwise members form PAC following state rebuke

By Ariel Wittenberg | August 20, 2013 |

After being reprimanded by the state for participating in Fairhaven’s spring election without reporting it properly, 16 members of the turbine-opposition group Windwise are now registered as a political action committee.

The Change Fairhaven PAC was formed in June after members were admonished by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

According to a letter sent to PAC member Ann DeNardis, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance had received a complaint that the 16 members had “paid for but did not disclose expenditures” for $1,401 worth of advertisements and flyers opposing Peter DeTerra and Brian Bowcock in their April bids for the Boards of Health and Selectmen, respectively.

An independent expenditure PAC is a group of people who organize to raise funds in order to help a specific candidate but do not contribute to candidates or political committees. Such PACs are required to report their receipts and expenditures eight days prior to an election and 30 days after.

The state found that the 16 members had “acted as an independent expenditure PAC and failed to comply with these disclosure requirements.”

DeNardis declined to comment on the issue, saying she could not recall what paperwork she had filed or when.

PAC Treasurer Dawn Devlin said her group initially had “no intention of forming a PAC” and only did so at the suggestion of the state.

She said the state had also questioned the creation of a video posted online by Windwise member John Methia about what he saw as a lack of transparency in town government in the run-up to the April election. The video was titled “Change Fairhaven,” and Devlin said the person who filed the complaint with the state wanted to know why it was not listed as an in-kind donation to Board of Health challenger John Wethington.

On Monday, Bowcock, who ran for selectman and lost in April, said he contacted the state in January to report that Wethington and other candidates for town office had not filed their campaign finance reports on time. He said he had not reported the video to the state but he thought it should have been listed as an in-kind donation. “I look at everybody’s paperwork as everybody scrutinizes mine,” Bowcock said, adding that he was aware of the state’s letter to the PAC. “What they did with my complaint, I don’t know.”

Wethington did report $350 in donations from Windwise in April. Change Fairhaven did not list costs for making the video on its campaign finance report filed in June for the April election.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance would not comment further on the issue.

Change Fairhaven is not the only PAC in town. In July, Friends of Fairhaven Wind also formed a PAC, called Friends of Fairhaven, which is pro-turbine but, because it is not an independent expenditure PAC, cannot support a specific candidate.

PAC Chairman Daniel Freitas accused Change Fairhaven of hypocrisy for failing to report its expenditures despite many members of Windwise publicly criticizing Town Clerk Eileen Lowney for multiple errors in her administration of the April town elections. In June, a Superior Court judge ordered a do-over of the Board of Health race from that election, which will be held Sept. 9, due to what he called “shortcuts and abridgements that amount to a public disgrace.”

Freitas said Change Fairhaven should be “ashamed of themselves “¦ for calling out other people for the same mistakes they were making.”

“They accuse people of corruption and everything else, but obviously they weren’t following the election rules either,” he said.

Devlin tried to distance Change Fairhaven from Windwise, saying that though the two groups share members “there is no coordination with Windwise.”

She said the PAC will focus on issues of government transparency beyond the turbines and plans to fundraise for the upcoming election. The PAC will endorse a candidate in the court-ordered second election of the April Board of Health race, but Devlin would not say which candidate that would be.

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