Attorney General Martha Coakley’s state political committee will turn over $17,813 to charity as part of an agreement with campaign finance regulators who found that she violated Massachusetts laws by using her federal US Senate funds for state political activities.
The Office of Campaign and Political Finance said Thursday that Coakley had used $14,050 of her federal campaign funds to pay a Washington-based vendor, NGP VAN, for compliance work for her state fund-raising committee.
State campaign finance laws bar federal committees from providing services for state committees. When it was disclosed in a Globe story last fall, Coakley denied that any of the federal funds paid for her state committee’s work.
The regulators also concluded that Coakley’s federal committee violated the law when it paid $3,763 for expenses she incurred attending the 2012 Democratic National Committee in Charlotte, N.C. At the time, Coakley, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, was running for reelection for state attorney general and was not a candidate for federal office.
The campaign finance office review of her political accounts was prompted by a series of Globe stories last fall revealing that the records for her federal campaign account that she used to run for the US Senate in 2010 were in fiscal disarray, hiding its true value.
The stories also reported she had also used some of the funds for her state political efforts and that she had continued to pay large bills to NGP VAN, although the federal committee was all but inactive. The controversy over her handling of her campaign funds is particularly embarrassing for Coakley, who as attorney general oversees the enforcement of campaign finance laws and has investigated and prosecuted political figures and candidates.
In a statement Thursday, Coakley expressed regret over the violations but insisted they were only “bookkeeping errors” and said she had initiated the campaign finance office review. She also noted she had closed her federal account with no findings of wrongdoing by the Federal Election Commission.
“When we first became aware of these concerns, we immediately reached out to both OCPF and the FEC to resolve this matter,’’ Coakley said. “I worked hard to determine what had happened, and to be transparent and accountable for it.”
“While today’s agreement clearly finds that no funds were misused or unreported, I regret that these errors occurred,’’ Coakley said. “With this agreement, and the FEC’s closure of the federal account with no action, all matters have now been fully resolved.’’
When the Globe raised questions about the chaotic bookkeeping in her federal account and her use of the funds since her defeat by Scott Brown in 2010, Coakley’s political aides argued that the payment from the federal account for her trip to the Charlotte convention was fully in compliance with the law. They also denied, but would not offer any evidence to back up their position, that the federal account’s payments to NGP VAN were for her state political work. They said the database was used only to file quarterly federal election reports and had never been used for her state political operations.
The campaign finance office came to a different conclusion.It said that after the Senate race, NGP VAN continued to charge Coakley’s inactive federal committee much more than her state committee, which was more active. Kyle Sullivan, a Coakley campaign spokesman, defended what he said was a mix-up. He laid the blame on NGP VAN for not informing Coakley’s political operation of it billing procedures.
He declined to respond to questions about whether Coakley felt it was her responsibility to oversee her two political accounts and catch the mistakes cited in the campaign finance office investigation.
The campaign finance office also said it concluded that “there was not reason to believe” that Coakley’s appointment of her sister to serve as the unpaid treasurer of her state committee had violated the campaign finance law. At the time, Anne Gentile was the paid treasurer for her federal committee. In addition to the $17,813 that the committee has agreed to pay to charity as its penalty, it will write a check for $6,000 to the state to cover the expenses of the investigation.Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.