GROTON — Town officials and potential candidates for public office gathered at Town Hall on Tuesday for a seminar outlining their obligations when seeking elective positions.
“We have had no problems regarding campaign financing but that’s why we have these seminars,” said Town Clerk Onorina Maloney. “It’s intended to prevent problems by educating candidates.”
Speaking at Tuesday’s seminar was Denis Kennedy, the director of public information for the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
According to the law, candidates seeking public office must file at least two campaign finance reports in an election year: one before and one after the election, said Kennedy.
A third report is required at the end of an election year for winners and those candidates who wish to retain funds in a special account against a future campaign.
The first report must be submitted to the town clerk no later than eight days before the election and the second within 30 days after the election.
The state’s campaign finance law also regulates political activity by public employees and the use of public buildings and resources in political campaigns.
Due to the egregious and blatant use of public employees and the distribution of favors by politicians in “the bad old days” of the 19th century, Kennedy said strict guidelines governing the behavior of public employees were adopted by the state to correct those problems.
Among the corrections is a prohibition against public employees defined as those who receive compensation from the state, county or local municipalities who “may directly or indirectly solicit or receive a contribution or anything of value for any political purpose.”
Although public employees cannot collect contributions or make telephone calls on behalf of a political candidate, they may run for office themselves, contribute to candidates or even help in a campaign by holding signs, etc.
The law also prohibits any kind of campaigning in public buildings including schools and libraries.
In addition, the law bans the use of public resources for campaigns such as vehicles, office equipment, buildings, the paid time of employees and anything else paid for by taxpayers.
As for monetary contributions to political campaigns, the law allows individuals and political action committees (PACs) to give no more than $500 per year per candidate and registered lobbyists only $200 per year. There is no limit on how much a candidate can contribute to his own campaign.
All money received by candidates, including the candidate’s contributions to his own campaign must be detailed in the three submitted campaign finance.
Despite an invitation to candidates running for a score of public offices in the town’s upcoming election and those from surrounding communities, Tuesday’s seminar was lightly attended.
“These type of things are not well-attended, unfortunately,” said Maloney. “One of the reasons, I believe, is that the Office of Campaign and Political Finance is not well-known.”
Maloney compared Tuesday’s light attendance to that of a past seminar covering the state’s Open Meeting Law, which had filled the upstairs meeting room at Town Hall.
To help get the word out, Maloney hopes to make available a video recording of the seminar on DVD so that future candidates can easily review their responsibilities under the law.
In the meantime, those interested in learning about the law can call the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance at (617) 727-8352 or visit www.mass.gov/ocpf.
A candidates’ night will be held on May 2 at the Senior Center, and the annual town election is scheduled for May 16.