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Hidden donations bring $25k fine

An attempt by owners of a grocery chain to hide political contributions to two candidates in Littleton backfired and they must pay $25,000 in fines, state officials said.

John and Joseph Donelan, owners of Donelan’s Supermarkets Inc., admitted to giving family and friends $8,000 between 2009 and 2012 to donate to two candidates for the Board of Selectmen, Alex McCurdy and Rich Carter, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. McCurdy is serving a third term. Carter, who is not serving on the board, could not be reached for comment.

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The Donelans used intermediaries to make the contributions to appear publicly neutral, according to a settlement. The donations violated state campaign finance laws, which limit an individual’s contribution to a candidate to $500 per calendar year and prohibit donors from disguising the source of a donation.

Both men were barred from making contributions until 2016.

The brothers own a supermarket chain founded by their father in 1948, with stores in Littleton, Acton, Lincoln, Groton, Pepperell, and Wayland.

“We are very pleased this civil matter has been resolved,” they said in a statement.

State officials said neither candidate had any direct knowledge the donations were from the Donelans. Both candidates must pay $500 to the state as part of the agreement.

McCurdy, a former fire chief, said said he was not happy about the fine. The selectmen’s job is a volunteer one, and state officials have told him he must make sure donors understand all state campaign finance laws.

“If something illegal is done, the campaign shares the responsibility for it, whether you know about it or not,” he said. “Is it fair? I don’t know. But I accept the findings.”

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.
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