Group members deny wrongdoing in anti-SB2 mailer
July 28, 2010
MOULTONBORO — The five residents who were issued Cease and Desist orders by the Attorney General's Office stating they failed to comply with identification and signature requirements for political advertising have denied any wrongdoing.
On June 8, orders were issued to Laurie Whitley, Mary Ann McRae, Lisa St. Amand, Anita Blood, and Karel Crawford in response to a complaint filed about an anti-SB2 flyer sent to Moultonboro residents before the March ballot vote in 2009.
All of the orders issued by Attorney Matthew Mavrogeorge of the state Attorney General's Office stated that the mailing constituted political advertising and was contrary to RSA 664:18, II (a) in how it "fails to identify the organization or enterprise responsible for sending it out. Moreover, the flyer fails to contain the name and address of the chairman or treasurer of the organization."
The orders state that all five are to cease and desist from distributing future political advertisements without first complying with the identification requirements or face enforcement action and/or prosecution.
Resident Paul Punturieri wrote a letter to the state attorney General's Office dated March 24, 2009 saying the mailer violated state law and unfairly resulted in the defeat of a ballot measure.
Punturieri specifically listed RSA 664:14 reading that political advertising for the success or defeat of a measure by a business, organization, labor union, or other enterprise or organization shall be signed. According to the law the enterprise shall be indicated and the chair or treasurer shall sign his or her name and address.
"She (Whitley) and others signed the flyer but there was no indication of its source, her candidacy or current elected office, who paid for the flyer, nor the organization that created it," Punturieri wrote in his letter. "It also states at the bottom that the Selectmen, School Board, and Advisory Budget Committee do not support SB2 but nowhere does it mention that she is a member of the School Board and running for office, nor that this flyer was not actually sent by the School Board, Selectmen, or Advisory Budget Committee. Since she is a member of the School Board and past Chair people receiving the flyer would think that was the source and be unfairly swayed."
Punturieri also attached an email exchange between Whitley and resident Rick Heath where Whitley said she did not know who the final author was and she said, to her knowledge, return addresses were put on every flyer.
"A telephone campaign was also conducted using the same misinformation as contained in the yellow flyer," Punturieri wrote. "Unsuspecting voters were called shortly before the election and told some outrageous inaccuracies such as non-registered voters from out of town being able to vote in Moultonboro with SB2. No identification occurred as to who was calling and who they represent."
Whitley said a group of individuals opposed to SB2 got together at someone's house.
"The group came together to strategize on how best to educate the voters," Whitley said. "We didn't have an organized group, we had a collective of people with the same goal in mind."
The group decided to put out a flyer, which Whitley said was made available to anyone who wanted it.
"I mailed out approximately 100," Whitley said. "Every one I mailed used a return address and signed name (and) I put notes such as 'Hope to see you at the polls.' As far as I was concerned I did nothing wrong. I was advocating for a position."
Whitley said she did not know who the author was of the flyer. She said flyer stacks were distributed to members of the group for them to distribute.
At the time of the mailing, Whitley was a member of the School Board and Crawford was a selectmen. Whitley is no longer on the School Board and Crawford still sits on the Board of Selectmen.
Whitley said the move had nothing to do with her being School Board member, and no town or school funds were used.
Punturieri also said Whitley, the School District, and the School Board "caused 'compelled speech' violations." Punturieri said Whitley improperly used her positions, saying she had access to the electronic checklist as a Supervisor of the Checklist and may have had access to a student mailing list as a School Board member. Punturieri said the envelope of the document "has a return address of 'concerned parents of MCS'"
"I believe that School District resources were involved in this mailing," Punturieri wrote.
Whitley said another individual purchased a public list of registered voters, which she said is available at the town clerk's office for a price. Whitley said the use of a school mailing list was never used or even suggested.
Punturieri wrote that 100 residents signed a petition against SB2; some he said were obtained on Moultonboro Central School property. Punturieri said he was told by the school that they had no knowledge of it.
"Unfortunately I know of parents who called the school to complain that a parent, Lisa St. Amand, was in the parking lot telling other people to 'sign this petition if you care about your kids,'" Punturieri wrote. "To the best of my knowledge, the school never asked her to leave. The petition was also signed by school leadership, School Board members, Selectmen, and other elected officials."
Punturieri said the flyer was also handed out to attendees of a varsity basketball game at Moultonboro Academy.
Whitley said she was not aware if any flyers were distributed on town or school property and that the School Board and School District would not approve of that, though it is possible someone may have done it without the Board or the SAU's knowledge.
In an interview with investigator Richard Valenti, School Board member Bill Blackadar said no authorization or discussion was made by the School Board for the group to pass out flyers on school property or at basketball games.
Superintendent Mike Lancor said he received a complaint from a parent who felt pressured by St. Amand gathering signatures. Lancor said that he and the MCS Principal Scott LaLiberte told St. Amand it was inappropriate to do so "as parents might feel pressured and associate the petition with the school district."
"Lancor said he thinks St. Amand ceased once she was spoken with," Valenti wrote in the report.
Lancor also told Valenti he attends most of the basketball games and never saw anyone handing out flyers, and the district would not allow the distribution of any flyer to or through students.
Whitley, McRae, St. Amand, Blood, and Crawford said in the interviews with Valenti the group was simply an assembly of about 15 concerned citizens who met at someone's house.
Whitley said in her interview that all expenses were paid out of pocket.
McRae said in the interview that flyers were not sent to everyone in town and only to the people group members thought would be in favor of it.
"McRae said the group had a lot of flyers made up and some could have floated out unsigned," Valenti wrote in a report. "McRae told me that she signed all the ones she sent out."
St. Amand said "if some got out unsigned she doesn't know how that would have happened."
St. Amand told Valenti that the group was "careful not to strong-arm anyone.
Blood and Crawford both said they did not use the school list or any school materials to send out the statement.
Blood said she never made any phone calls. Crawford said she believed phone calls were made to parents to tell them to get out and vote.
Crawford said every mailing she sent had her signature and said she thought all flyers went out signed.
"I told Karel that the flyer says the Selectmen, School Board, and Advisory Budget Committee do not support SB2," Valenti wrote. "Karel said that she believes that all three voted against SB2."
According to the 2009 town warrant, both the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Budget Committee voted 5-0 against the SB2 article.
"I recognize that ballot day is over and the results of SB2 were defeated," Punturieri wrote. "I do not believe it was a fair fight as the powers that be did not play by the rules and I believe they violated multiple laws multiple times. In an ideal world, the ballot question would be overturned and voters would be given a second chance in a fair ballot. It that's a possible legal remedy, great. I would like to see the individuals responsible for these illegal acts held accountable for their actions."
The cease and desist orders were issued on June 8.
Whitley said she was told by the AG's office that the flyer did not state the organization or the president or treasurer of the organization.
"In my opinion there was no organization, we didn't have a president, we didn't have a name, we didn't have a treasurer," Whitley said. "I'm a bit confused by the cease and desist order."
Whitley said she called the Attorney General and explained the situation. She said he was receptive and advised her to write a letter requesting reconsideration, which she said she would do soon.
"I think the complaint was faulty and frivolous and a misuse of taxpayer dollars," Whitley said.
Whitley said she had read the cease and desist order carefully.
"I don't want to say the AG is wrong; it's a matter of interpretation," Whitley said.
Whitley said she has offers to both Punturieri and Heath that she would be willing to tell them the facts and information if they call her directly, but they have not done so yet.
Whitley said she has not heard much about the issue around town, and most of the people she has spoken to about it have been supportive.
"The ones who have commented feel this whole thing is very frivolous," she said.
She has also spoken with some of the others named in the complaint.
"I would say just in general their feel is this has not been handled well (and) they probably are going to ask for reconsideration as well," Whitley said.