PITTSFIELD — Two accounts related to District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s inauguration and campaign committees were flagged this month by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance for running afoul of state campaign finance law.
The office’s review looked at the Berkshire DA’s political finances during 2020 and found failure to comply with Massachusetts law governing inauguration funds, which are known as segregated funds, due to the commingling of money between her campaign committee and an inauguration fund.
In an interview Thursday, Harrington called the mistakes an accounting error.
The review was launched after Harrington’s campaign committee itself notified OCPF late last year and this year that money had been deposited in the incorrect account, OCPF Director Pro Tem Michael Sullivan wrote in a Nov. 10 public resolution letter. It also found missteps with the handling of both funds. Also, the inauguration fund itself should have been dissolved within a year of her January 2019 inauguration, but was not.
Unlike campaign accounts, inauguration funds are not subject to strict political finance regulations, and can accept unlimited donations from people and entities.
“Therefore,” read OCPF’s Nov. 10 public resolution letter to Harrington, “inauguration funds must be kept separate from the candidate’s or committee’s campaign account, and any donations received by the inauguration fund may not be deposited into the campaign account.”
In one instance, Sullivan wrote the Berkshire DA “apparently intended” to loan her campaign $5,000 on July 3 of this year, but the OPCF review found the money was mistakenly deposited into her inauguration fund. The $5,000 and what was left over in her inauguration fund, about $1,000, was transferred into Harrington’s campaign account Sept. 4.
Money left over in such an inauguration fund can be donated to scholarship, charity or a municipality, but cannot be transferred to a candidate’s campaign committee, according to the letter.
Harrington told The Eagle that Berkshire Bank put the money into her inauguration account by mistake, adding that both accounts went by the same name. “It was my intention to put the funds in the campaign account but the bank put the funds into the inaugural account,” said Harrington, adding that she was not looking to lay blame.
“It was an accounting error. They [OCPF] closed the matter. It wasn’t reported as a violation. This is a pretty standard thing,” she said. “It’s just a mistake; that happens. There’s no malice on anybody’s part.”
Harrington confirmed she spent the $5,000 on consulting work for the current year by Adam Webster, who had served as a campaign spokesman during her successful 2018 bid for top county prosecutor.
The September transfer of funds was made after it came to Harrington’s attention that the money had been deposited in the wrong account, she said.
Harrington said she has gone above and beyond to “be above board and not take advantage of state funds,” and set up her inauguration fund to avoid using public money for her swearing-in.
She objected to The Eagle reporting on the campaign finance missteps that the agency identified, which the OCPF included in its fall 2020 newsletter out Wednesday.
“I’m really disappointed that this is something you’re choosing to highlight given all the important things that are going on in Berkshire County,” she told a reporter. “I really think that it’s unfair that this is what you’re choosing to highlight.”
Public resolution letters may be issued when a subject “did not comply” with the law but OCPF believes the “case is able to be settled in an informal fashion with an educational letter or a requirement,” according to the agency’s newsletter.
The agency has closed Harrington’s matter, saying its guidance will ensure Harrington’s future compliance with campaign finance law.
In another set of compliance issues cited by OCPF, Harrington’s campaign committee transferred $1,700 into her inauguration fund, which in turn failed to report the donations. The inauguration fund was tapped for expenses that Sullivan said should have been paid by her campaign committee, like $1,098 for web design this past March.
Harrington was instructed to amend her campaign finance reports and to dissolve the inauguration fund.