Wilkerson comments on lawsuit settlement

August 28, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson gave a more detailed response to her recent campaign finance lawsuit settlement in a recent Gazette interview.

Wilkerson last month acknowledged that she violated election fund reporting laws in 2000-04 and agreed to pay a $10,000 personal fine, among other sanctions. It is her second campaign finance-related fine in 10 years.

It was all part of a legal agreement that settles a lawsuit filed against Wilkerson by the state in 2005. The agreement covers the 2000-07 time period and requires corrections of other alleged violations besides those she was originally sued for. The violations included “unlawful” campaign contributions and tens of thousands of dollars in unexplained reimbursements being paid to Wilkerson, her sons and others.

In the settlement, the actual legal violations Wilkerson acknowledged were “failing to maintain adequate records” and operating a campaign committee without a treasurer for more than two years.

In an interview at the Gazette office, Wilkerson restated her position that the election law violations were just record-keeping errors, “in spite of all the sensationalism.”

“I was very, very anxious to get it resolved,” Wilkerson said, referring to the settlement as “closing the door on it forever.”

The lawsuit was filed by former state Attorney General Tom Reilly. Wilkerson credited current Attorney General Martha Coakley with being “very fair and reasonable,” suggesting Coakley made it easier to get a settlement done.

The Gazette asked Wilkerson why the campaign finance problems keep happening, and why she didn’t hire someone to solve them. Wilkerson said the problems do not keep happening, specifying that she acknowledged violating the law only in 2000-04.

As for hiring someone, Wilkerson said, “That’s been done…We’ve had in place for some time a whole series of policies…so those things never happen again.”

But, as the Gazette previously reported, the state sent “audit letters” to Wilkerson’s campaign about still more apparent violations in 2006 and 2007. The most recent audit letter was sent two months ago.

“Audit letters are very common,” said Jason Tait, spokesperson for the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF). “It doesn’t mean that [a candidate] did anything illegal.”

All campaign finance reports are audited. An audit letter is issued if a “problem” is found, with a request for filing an amendment with more information, Tait said. OCPF records indicate that Wilkerson’s campaign has been filing at least some amended records.

The 2006 and 2007 audit letters complaints included apparent unlawful contributions and unexplained reimbursements to Wilkerson and others. It appears that record-keeping errors, at least, were continuing.

One problem cited in the audit letter for 2006 was an individual contribution total over the $500 a year limit reportedly made by Mossik Hacobian, president of the local community development corporation Urban Edge. Wilkerson had reported three contributions in 2006 from Hacobian in the amounts of $100, $200 and $250.

But Hacobian told the Gazette last week that his own financial records show that he contributed only $300 to Wilkerson in 2006 in the form of two payments of $100 and $200.

“Those were only questions,” Wilkerson said of the audit letters, distinguishing them from her 2000-04 violations. “There’s nothing new that happened since ’06.”

Sonia Chang-Díaz, Wilkerson’s opponent in next month’s Democratic primary election, previously noted that the settlement ends the case without explaining such items as the unexplained reimbursements paid to Wilkerson. Wilkerson’s campaign is in the process of filing amended reports that may explain the expenditures, though she also agreed to simply stop seeking more than $20,000 she claimed her own campaign owed her.

“The settlement addresses future concerns, but there are a lot of outstanding questions about where the money came from [and went],” Chang-Díaz told the Gazette.

When the Gazette raised that criticism with Wilkerson, campaign media consultant Dan Cence cut the questioning short. He referred to the campaign’s previously issued written statement about the settlement, saying, “That’s as much as we’re going to say about it.” The statement did not explain the reimbursements or any other detailed items.

When the Gazette asked Wilkerson if she wanted to leave it at that, she added, “I’ve sat next to my opponent on any number of occasions. She had ample opportunity to ask me anything she wants. She never has.”

Chang-Díaz’s campaign finance reports have yet to be audited, Tait said.

See also: Senator fined $10,000 in election funds case

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