In May 2011, when I applied for a part-time job with the Town of Lenox (a clerk position to support the Building Inspectors Office), I was made aware that town employees may not serve as political committee treasurer. At the time I was serving as a campaign committee treasurer for JD Hebert in Pittsfield, I was facilitating meetings of Berkshire Greens PAC, and I had a campaign committee in my own name for which I raised funds. When I was offered the position in Lenox I checked with OCPF about campaign finance issues in relation to town employees. The helpful staff at OCPF informed me that I had to choose between accepting the position or continuing my above-referenced involvement with political fundraising. I was provided with a legal review from 1992 that was very clear. I chose not to accept the town position.
In July 2011 I learned that Marge Pero, who was Treasurer for the Pignatelli Committee, had accepted a position as Acting Town Accountant for the Town of Lenox. I informed Town Manager Greg Federspiel what I had learned earlier from OCPF, and he requested that I provide him with the legal opinion, which I did in a letter dated August 5, 2011 (Appendix B). Mr. Federspiel told me that he would follow up with Ms. Pero.
When I noticed in January 2012 that the Pignatelli campaign's year-end filing for 2011 still listed Ms. Pero as Committee Treasurer I verbally informed the Town Manager of this (and might have sent him an e-mail, but I can't locate it). [Update 8/12/12: the e-mail has been located; it was sent on January 17, 2012 (Appendex D)] He seemed surprised because he said he had discussed this with Ms. Pero soon after the August memo. He said he would follow up again.
In April 2012 the Pignatelli campaign still listed Ms. Pero as Treasurer, so I sent a letter to OCPF to request that they review the case. I discovered that the matter had been finally resolved when I reviewed the online profile of the Pignatelli campaign in June and saw that a new treasurer had been named.
Last week I was copied on the OCPF letter of July 23, 2012 (Appendix C) that was reported on in the July 31 Berkshire Eagle. I commend the media for choosing to report this news item. I believe that the public should know that elected officials are held accountable. I am glad that OCPF helped to resolve this matter. I support the legal interpretation of campaign finance law that maintains that a town employee must not be involved in political finance activities either 'in name only' or in action.
Lee Scott Laugenour
August 1, 2012
Appendix A - Text of July 31, 2012 Berkshire Eagle article by Ned Oliver.
REP PIGNATELLI FINED $250 FOR CAMPAIGN FINANCE GAFFE
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, has agreed to pay a $250 fine following a complaint that his campaign treasurer was also a public employee.
State campaign finance law prohibits public employees from serving as committee treasurers.
Pignatelli said the violation was the result of an oversight.
"It was brought to my attention, we fixed and we've moved on," Pignatelli said. "I've paid a $250 penalty and the case is closed."
The complaint was handled by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
According to a letter from the office, Pignatelli's longtime treasurer, Marge Pero, continued to serve as his re-election committee's treasurer after she was hired as the acting town accountant in Lenox in July 2011.
Pignatelli removed Pero as treasurer as soon as he was made aware of the conflict, according to the letter. His new treasurer is listed Chris Quetti, a Great Barrington accountant.
Pignatelli said the possibility that he was in violation of state law never crossed his mind because he has handled all his own banking and state campaign filings since the process was digitized around 2006.
"She was treasurer in name only," Pignatelli said.
Both Pignatelli and Pero told state investigators that Pero never solicited funds for the campaign or attended fund raising events.
Pignatelli expressed dismay that the person who filed the complaint chose to go to the state rather than tell him about the violation.
"They could have just called me," he said. "I know this is politically motivated to embarrass me and embarrass my family, and I think that's very unfortunate."
Complaints filed with the OCPF are confidential, according to the office's spokesman.
Pignatelli, who represents the 4th Berkshire District, is facing a challenge from Green-Rainbow candidate L. Scott Laugenour in the November election.
Appendix B: I provided interested media with the text of my August 5, 2012 letter to the Town of Lenox.
Gregory T. Federspiel
Town of Lenox
6 Walker St.
Lenox, MA 01240
Dear Mr. Federspiel,
As you requested, enclosed are the first three pages - out of eight total - of an interpretive bulletin issued by the Office of Campaign & Political Finance, which provides guidance on the prohibition of town employees from engaging in direct or indirect fund-raising for political purposes.
Please note that on page three the bulletin is quite clear in stating that no town employee can serve as a treasurer for a political committee. This may apply to Marge Pero, as we discussed yesterday.
These guidelines apply to public full time and part time positions. The attorneys in the OCPF office tell me that the law is purposefully interpreted very broadly.
The complete text of the bulletin can be viewed at:
(click on LEGAL RESOURCES then INTERPRATIVE BULLETINS then scroll down to IB-92-01)
Lee Scott Laugenour
Appendix C - scan of the OCPF letter that was sent to Rep. Pignatelli and copied to me.
Appendix D - e-mail to Lenox Town Manager from Scott Laugenour dated January 17, 2012:
What I heard [that the Pignatelli campaign had not named a new treasurer] evidently is correct, unless the information in the following campaign finance report filed yesterday is in error, where Marge Pero is listed as the campaign treasurer of a campaign committee:
I'm sure that campaign finance regulations prohibit a town employee from serving as treasurer. I myself serve as a treasurer for a candidate, which is why I needed to turn down the job offer of building inspector clerk last year.