by Ed Naile
Here is how municipal doubletalk evolves regarding municipal electioneering when municipal lawyers are involved – no wonder taxpayers get confused.
Peterborough, an elitist NH town full of Obama Republicans, has an election coming up and the powers that be want to make absolutely sure no lower class beings get a leg up on any office they currently control, so the current Selectmen generated a letter of endorsement for their candidate and poped it in the local paper.
Here is the event as described by the SentinelSource.com site:
“A week before town elections, Peterborough’s board of selectmen has been told by the N.H. Attorney General that letters they sent to the editor of a local newspaper were illegal electioneering.
The selectmen sent a letter last month to the editor of the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript newspaper endorsing Carol A. Lenox for town clerk in next week’s election.
A letter from Chairman Barbara A. Miller and Joseph J. Byk endorsing fellow selectman Elizabeth M. Thomas for re-election also appeared in last week’s Ledger-Transcript.
Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte’s office ruled Tuesday that endorsing candidates, or electioneering as selectmen, is illegal, and sent the board a cease-and-desist order.
While the selectmen don’t plan to contest the ruling, said Miller, they stand behind the letters.”
And in a letter to the board, the town’s attorney, John J. Ratigan, questioned the state’s interpretation of the statute, titled “Electioneering at the Polling Place.”
The statute in question which the AG’s Office says was violated is here:
659:44 Electioneering at the Polling Place. – No election officer shall electioneer while in the performance of his official duties. For the purposes of this section, “”electioneer” shall mean to act in any way specifically designed to influence the vote of a voter on any question or office. Any person who violates this provision shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Source. 1979, 436:1, eff. July 1, 1979.
You may notice the title of 659:44 is “Electioneering At The Polling Place.” The Peterborough attorney, John Ratigan noticed the title as well and claims the Peterborough Selectmen did nothing wrong by endorsing a candidate while technically NOT at a polling place. Nice try attorney Ratigan – give the board that pays you some cover.
From the same SentinelSource.com article:
“Ratigan wrote: “The issuance of these candidate support letters had nothing to do with conduct at the polling place.”
It would be different, Ratigan said in an interview, if an election officer wore a candidate’s pin or carried a sign at the polls, which he said is clearly against the law.
“The selectmen wear their selectmen hat 365 days of the year and three days of the year they perform official duties as election officials,” Ratigan said. “You would not expect selectmen at the polls to be glad-handing or electioneering.”
But Associate Attorney General Anne M. Edwards said electioneering, which is defined in state statues as acting “in any way specifically designed to influence the vote of a voter on any question or office,” is not limited to Election Day.
“The ruling was that selectmen are included under the definition of election officers, and under another law election officers are not allowed to electioneer,” Edwards said.”
Nice, quibble about “at the polls” or “in official capacity” all you want but there is another fly in the ointment.
If the Peterborough Selectmen got together and penned a letter in support of a candidate and they did that in their official capacity as Selectmen then the discussion of it should be in their MINUTES!
The suggestion to take an action to write a letter supporting a candidate should have been on the meeting AGENDA!
The VOTE to do so should be in the MINUTES as well, unless of course they did this by PHONE or at some other undisclosed meeting.
And one more little mention should be made.
If the Peterborough Selectmen are using the Town resources such as the office, secretary, email, printer, computers, etc., than endorsements on behalf of any candidate or issue is a violation of compelled speech (using government resources to politic), a violation of the rights of the other candidate or issue’s supporters.
Ah, but this is New Hampshire and officials have to have an attorney to cover their tracks when they break the law, much as Attorney Ratigan, a few years back, wrote a letter to some of his past clients, the Berlin City Council, on how to avoid the limits of the Right to Know Law. CNHT has a copy of that fine piece of legal advice stashed in our office.
Did I mention Peterborough Selectman Joe Byk is a lawyer?