Bianchi campaign pays state $1,000 to resolve finance reporting violations
PITTSFIELD — Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's campaign committee was required to pay the state $1,000 to resolve a finance reporting violation that undervalued an in-kind contribution of campaign office space.
In a letter sent to the mayor on Dec. 18, a copy of which was obtained by The Eagle, Michael Sullivan, director of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said that after a review stemming from a complaint, the office concluded that "the [Bianchi] committee did not comply with Sections 8 and 18 of the campaign finance law."
The review followed a complaint to the office that stated that "the [Bianchi] committee, when reporting an in-kind contribution in the form of office space for a campaign office, significantly underreported the value of the space," Sullivan wrote.
The Bianchi committee had its campaign headquarters in the Elm Street Shops center at 180 Elm St., in space that had been vacant, the letter states, and it was occupied from Sept. 15 through Nov. 14. The owner of Elm Street LLC, Jay Newhouse, provided the space as an in-kind contribution, Sullivan said, and that was valued by the campaign committee in a finance report at $150 per month.
Section 8 of the campaign finance law, Sullivan states, says that business entities "may not directly or indirectly give, pay, expend or contribute, or promise to give, pay, expend or contribute, any money or other valuable thing for the purpose of ... promoting or preventing the nomination or election of a person to public office." He said it also bars political campaign committees from soliciting or receiving "any gift, payment, contribution or promise to give, pay, expend or contribute for any such purpose."
Section 18 refers to the timely and accurate reporting of campaign contributions.
Bianchi said the issue was resolved after telephone conversations between his wife, Theresa, who headed his campaign committee, and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. He added that there was a comment to his wife during those conversations about the significant number of such complaints concerning Pittsfield elections.
The names of the people complaining are not revealed to the campaign being complained about, Bianchi said, "but I think you can figure out where that came from."
Bianchi said the value of the rental space was difficult to determine, in that Newhouse told his wife that it was worth something to him to have it occupied and on display to businesses possibly interested in leasing space, and the campaign committee also did some sprucing up in the form of painting and replacing ceiling tiles.
The mayor added that in general there were "no complaints" about the way his campaigns have complied with finance reporting requirements.
Sullivan said in his letter that, based on his office's review, and based on a new assessment by the Bianchi committee of the fair market value of the space, which was requested after receipt of the complaint, "the in-kind contribution as initially disclosed ($150) per month was substantially below market value, even for use of a vacant space by an at-will tenant."
He stated that a "more accurate estimate for the value of the space was approximately $400 per month." The approximate amount of the contributions was $1,000, Sullivan said, adding that "to resolve this matter, the [Bianchi] committee has paid the Commonwealth $1,000, the approximate amount of the in-kind contribution received."
The letter also states that "the receipt of an in-kind contribution from an LLC did not comply with Section 8. In addition, the value of the in-kind contribution was not accurately disclosed, in violation of Section 18."
Asked Wednesday about the amount of rent the mayoral campaign of City Clerk Linda Tyer paid during her successful race against Bianchi, her campaign manager, Thomas Sakshaug, said the campaign paid $500 per month plus utilities for office space on East Street near Park Square.
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