Political donations to be posted on Web

NASHUA – Under a new ordinance, residents can find out how much money unions and other organizations contributed to candidates for public office in the city, just by going online.

Filings by candidates and contributions by political organizations will be posted on the city’s Web site within three days after being filed and will remain on the site for four years. Also, every candidate now will be required to file papers with the city clerk, even if the candidate neither raised nor spent money.

“I think it helps with accountability,” said the ordinance’s sponsor, Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons.The way filings were handled before the ordinance left “no paper backup,” he said.

The Board of Aldermen passed the new ordinance this week – even though the new legislation carried forward an error that would have to be corrected later, Clemons acknowledged.

The new ordinance requires that a union or organization that gives $100 or more to any candidate or to back any ballot initiative must file statements with the city clerk detailing receipts and expenditures.

However, in cases where contributions total $10 or less, only the amount needs to be noted.

Nowhere does the ordinance address contributions between $10 and $100, and Clemons said Wednesday he believes the $10 figure should have been $100.

Clemons said the error would be corrected before summer, when the next filing period for public office would occur.

The main objective of the ordinance is to make it easier for residents to see campaign contributions, Clemons said.

“Obviously, these records aren’t secret,” he said.

Anybody can get the information by visiting the city clerk’s office, he said.

Also, while The Telegraph publishes campaign filings and contributions during filing periods, the information is out of voters’ minds after elections are over, when an issue arises.

That happened last fall during discussions about a proposed firefighters contract. A former alderman and other residents asked how much money the firefighters union contributed to candidates. The former alderman raised the question of whether contributions would influence whether a recipient of the money would vote in favor of the contract.

Clemons said the ordinance change puts information about contributions at the public’s fingertips.

Another change in the ordinance caused some discussion at the board meeting this week.

A new provision would allow a candidate to file paperwork by fax or e-mail. The candidate would be responsible for following-up to make sure the city clerk received the information electronically.

Several aldermen raised the question of what if someone posing as a candidate filed false information. What safeguard would prevent bogus information from appearing on the Web site before it could be removed, they wondered?

Clemons said the safeguard is that the candidate has to contact the city clerk to make sure he received the information.

“I don’t perceive that being an issue,” he said. “We’re talking about somebody who’s forging records, and there’s serious penalties for that. That’s election fraud.”