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CAMPAIGN FINANCE BUGABOOS BUG BIANCHI, MAZZEO … MAYOR NOTIFIED ON APRIL 3, 2013 OF LAW BREAKING BUT KEEPS PUBLIC DOCUMENT HIDDEN UNTIL NOW … PLANET’S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING UNCOVERS ABUSE

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, SEPT. 20, 2013) — Campaign finance law has its many arcane nooks and crannies, its nuances and subtleties. It’s surprising that there are not more campaign finance violations that actually occur.  That being said, many more occur than are reported, and there is a feeling common among campaigns that the benefits are worth the risk. If you get caught, chances are it won’t be reported. If it is reported, all you’ll have to do is sustain a light tap on the wrist and make good for the money you should have in the first place. Your backers will excuse the gaffes, and as for the rest of the public, well, backers don’t give a hoot about them.

Dan Bianchi, swearing to uphold the law, but what’s the left hand doing?

The next point to make: Campaign finance laws are The Law. The state provides extensive information on these laws, and it’s the responsibility of every campaign to learn the law, understand the law, and obey the law. That’s why campaigns employ managers and treasurers, people who can run checks and cross checks to ensure that all is being done in accordance with the books. Violations of campaign finance laws leave open the door to doubt: “If he or she is cutting corners here, then where else are they doing it?” MAybe somewhere, and maybe nowhere, but it’s a reasonable question to answer.

This said, it’s with advisement that anyone draws irrevocable conclusion from violations of campaign finance law. The best thing to do when violations occur if you run a campaign organization is to understand what went wrong and make sure not to do it again. Admit your mistake, learn from it, and — oh, by the way — make it public. Yeah, make it public, because it is a reflection upon your total performance not just in office but in quest of office. Sometimes, the second tells us more than the first. Candidates and office holders are often the last to realize that the electorate — that is, the regular people — appreciate unforced honesty.

The best thing to do when violations occur if you are a journalist is to try to find out about it. That’s easier said than done. First, virtually all campaigns try to keep news of violations from the public, particularly when they are adjudicated during the next campaign. Second, adjudications are generally not reported. Third, after the accusation, the state has to make a ruling and agree on law breaking or not. Fourth, it will then issue notice of the decision to the law breaker and to the whistleblower. It will not issue a press release. Fifth, though the documents are public records, campaigns do everything they can to keep such news hidden. That’s just human nature. So much for “transparency.”

Needless to say, a previous violation makes one wonder if other violations are happening now.

STATE FINDS BIANCHI BROKE CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS IN 2011

THE PLANET has learned that Dan Bianchi and Melissa Mazzeo, running for re-election as mayor and councilor-at-large in Pittsfield respectively, have been found guilty of violating campaign finance law by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) in Boston. The state issued its findings in April 3 letters to Bianchi and Mazzeo. A call to the OCPF confirmed the issuance of the letters.

BIANCHI’S VIOLATION

The OCFP received a complaint that alleged that during the 2011 campaign, the Committee to Elect Dan Bianchi “received undisclosed in-kind corporate contributions.” These contributions stem from an Oct. 12, 2011 fundraiser sponsored by Sheriff Tom Bowler at Mazzeo’s Restaurant in Pittsfield. In the small world of Pittsfield GOB politics, Bowler, who was himself at the time running for high sheriff, worked mightily for Bianchi’s campaign that year. Bianchi returned the favor on Bowler’s campaign. Bowler’s sister, Donna Mattoon, served as Bianchi’s campaign manager and in a similar capacity for her brother. After the campaign, Bianchi named Mattoon to the position of director of administrative services in the mayor’s office. Mazzeo’s Restaurant is owned by Melissa Mazzeo and her husband.

Remember when you went to Disneyworld and went through those watery tunnels to the song:

It’s a small world, after all. / It’s a small world, after all. / It’s a small world, after all. / It’s a small, small world.

“It’s a small world after all. / It’s a small, small world.”

About “40-50 people attended the event,” says the letter addressed to mayor Bianchi on April 3, 2013 — more than five months ago. It’s interesting that there are those familiar with the event who say attendance was at least double that. THE PLANET was unable to confirm that. Be that as it may, for official purposes, THE PLANET concedes the lower figure.

The restaurant typically charges about $4-$5 per person for cocktails and hor d’oeuvres in an event of this type. However, the state found, that “neither [Bianchi] nor Sheriff Bowler reported any expenditures or liabilities for this event,” even though the restaurant “acknowledged that nobody was billed for the event. If you’re a regular guy off the street and you throw a little bash for 40 or 50 of your closest friends, chances are pretty good you’ll be slapped with a check before you get two steps within reach of the door. Not this time.

As the state points out to Bianchi in an April 3, 2013 letter addressed to him at his home at “9 LeRoi Dive” [THE PLANET assumes that the OCPF meant "Drive," unless the neighborhood has taken a turn for the worse], “The campaign finance law requires all candidates or political committees filing reports to ‘disclose the full name and residential address, lilsted alphabetically, of each person who has made a contribution … in an amount in excess of fifty dollars’ M.G.L. c 55, p 18.”

The OCPF letter also scolds the mayor “that business corporations 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 any person to public office,’ and that political committees organized on behalf of a candidate may not ‘ solicit or receive from such corporation … any gift, payment expenditure, contribution or promise to give, pay, expend[,] or contribute for any such purpose.’ Violations of section 8 are subject to substantial penalties …’”

Since Mazzeo’s Restaurant didn’t charge Bianchi for the use of the restaurant, for any of the food, or for any of the beverages provided for that night on Oct. 12, 2011, the state found that Bianchi didn’t pay the restaurant one cent for the services. He didn’t do so because, as the state points out, the restaurant never billed Bianchi for that event. It’s the answer to an ancient philosophical question: What sound does a cash register make when a bill is not paid because a bill was not given for services rendered?

Looking at this episode from afar, it’s hard to fashion any kind of realistic, pragmatic, or plausible conditions whereby:

a.) Candidate A would have a such a benefit put on in his behalf by Sheriff B.

b.) The event would include food and beverages plus use of part of the restaurant.

c.) The restaurant would not charge a fee or generate a bill either for Candidate A or Sheriff B.

In other words, how could the mayor and his committee not know the event, which did not generate a bill, was a violation of the law? Why would the mayor or his campaign manager or his treasurer not have insisted on paying for the event? Could the answer be that they didn’t think they would get caught?

As the OCPF states, even though Bianchi wasn’t billed, he “was nevertheless required to pay [the restaurant] for the goods and services provided.” He also “was obligated to report the receipt of those goods or services as an in-kind contribution from [the restaurant].”

The fix or make-good was the tap-on-the-wrist letter — again, issued on April 3 of this year and never given the light of day by Bianchi, hiding it as he did from the people who elected him and who didn’t elect him, for he is their mayor, too. The state also required Bianchi to make a contribution of $250 to a charity of his choice.

Michael Sulllivan, OCFP director, notes also that “this letter is a public record. A copy will be sent to the person who brought this matter to our attention.” Even though it’s a public document, and even though an honest person sitting in the office of mayor would disclose it just to keep the record clean and transparent — you’ll recall “transparency” was a big deal for Bianchi during the 2011 campaign — Bianchi hid the letter.

MAZZEO’S VIOLATION

The OCFP received a complaint against Mazzeo regarding her use of a catering truck owned by Mazzeo’s Restaurant. The truck deliverd food to poll workers and volunteers on Nov. 8, 2011, Election Day. Later that day, Mazzeo’s committee hosted a party at the restaurant to celebrate her win in the at-large race.

The state found two curiosities regarding these two items:

Melissa Mazzeo: State find campaign violations.

1.) Mazzeo’s committee did not receive a bill for the use of the restaurant’s catering truck and did not pay the $320 per diem associated with its use. That’s what any other customer would have to pay for use of the truck.

2.) Though the victory party was held on Nov. 8, 2011, no payment was made to the restaurant until March 6, 2013, 16 months after the fact. The state found this long delay “troublesome.”

3.) Even though Don Davis stated that he paid $410 for the coffee, donuts, soup, and eggplant parm used to feed volunteers on Election Day, Mazzeo’s re-election committee did not disclose any receipt of this contribution from Davis. Campaign finance law required her to do so.

4.) Related — In May 2011, Mazzeo’s re-election committee hosted a fundraiser at Mazzeo’s Restaurant. The state said that “Thomas and Penny Angelini … provided the food for that event as a cost of $618, and that the food was intended as an in-kind contribution from the Angelinis to” Mazzeo’s committee. Neither Mazzeo nor her committee, however, disclosed this donation.

As in the case of Bianchi, Mazzeo is a seasoned campaigner. The campaign had an obligation to know such non-disclosures would be problematic. With the candidate herself, her manager, and her treasurer, not one of them realized this?

Based on the failure to disclose these contributions, the state ordered Mazzeo’s committee to pay the Commonwealth of Massachusetts $320.

——- 000 ——-

Moral of the story: There too often seem to be two sets of laws in Pittsfield. The first one if for the hoi polloi, the unwashed, the bedraggled taxpayers, and the honest, hard-working average people who give the city its life and character. That first set of laws is inflexible. When Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski violate even the letter, they have to pay in full or else.

The second set of laws are the ones that apply to the privileged — those who have money, power, or Know The Right People. These Beautiful People of Pittsfield can break the law at will. Most of the time, their buddies will help them cover it up. They will circle the wagons, and the law breaker won’t have to worry about a thing. If and when the crimes of The Privileged are exposed, the messenger is always blamed, and the GOB rushes in to either make it go away or mitigate the damage. As for the exposure, The Big Shots know they won’t have to worry one bit about the mainstream local media, led by The Boring Broadsheet and the non-existent news staffs of local radio.

In light of this, one has to wonder: During Campaign 2013, what laws if any are being broken by whom? Who can you trust, as the old game show used to put it.

It’s getting so you can’t trust a single one of them. That’s why we say our ideal candidate is one who doesn’t want the office. To crave political office in Pittsfield is pretty much advertising that you want to sell you soul for your entry into GOB-dom.

Does one sell eternity to get a toy?

———————————————————————————–

“God’s lioness, / How one we grow, / Pivot of heels and knees! — The furrow // Splits and passes, sister to / The brown arc / Of the neck I cannot catch.”Sylvia Plath, from “Ariel,” (1965).

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

47 Responses to “CAMPAIGN FINANCE BUGABOOS BUG BIANCHI, MAZZEO … MAYOR NOTIFIED ON APRIL 3, 2013 OF LAW BREAKING BUT KEEPS PUBLIC DOCUMENT HIDDEN UNTIL NOW … PLANET’S INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING UNCOVERS ABUSE”

  1. tito
    September 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Dan and friends, Candidate Rick Latura of Ward 3 said you can go to his campaign kick off at the Italian American Club, and he also said ‘we can call him an idiot’. You have to endorse Mr. Latura Dan!

  2. Evian
    September 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Thank you for this piece DV. It’s clear that the BB wouldn’t go near it even though its relevant news.

  3. Gatos
    September 20, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    The next question might be:
    How much, if anything, were the Mazzeo’s employees paid for their services at these fundraisers? If nothing, were their services reported as in-kind contributions?

    • Gatos
      September 20, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

      Oh! And were their service required as a condition of further employment?
      Just asking.

  4. B
    September 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    I am surprised that Bianchi has not had a heart attack as of yet because all he does is tell lies, oh I take that back he just omits from telling the whole story. I forgot he can’t have a heart attack he doesn’t have a heart!

  5. Giacometti
    September 20, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Didn’t the Marchetti for Mayor people uncover this same indiscretion about Candidate Bianchi during their run for Mayor and Candidate Bianchi acknowledged the oversight to the State and settled the whole affair with the State back in 2011 ?

  6. Jonathan Melle
    September 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    Pittsfield politics is corrupt. The Good Old Boy network runs the show in Pittsfield. The people suffer financially with high taxes going to corrupt bureaucrats.

  7. Dont trust em
    September 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    You can’t believe a thing you hear on the campaign trail. These ******** will try to get away with everything they can. Writing in DV for mayor. There’s nothing to lose but our losing.

  8. Patroll Patriot
    September 20, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Speaking of misuse of money (state taxpayer money), consider Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle who has a house on Crofut St. almost directly across from Bill Heins. At the hearing in Boston today, the Commissioner of Education questioned the Board of Trustees about how four years of unauthorized use of funds related to violations of the law could take place ? One of the trustees sitting at the table was former Mayor James T. Ruberto. What is thance chance of that happening?

    • dusty
      September 21, 2013 at 1:04 am #

      The whole state is crooked and will never get better because you have crooks controlling the oversight.

  9. Dissing Dan
    September 20, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    You speak well, Payroll Patiot but isn’t it curious that Mr. Valenti says not a word about Dobelle and his shenanigans?

    He’s all over Mayor Bianchi, but Dobelle and his cronies? I see nothing nothing (Sgt. Schultz).

    Mr. Valenti like to play innocent but he’s pulling a lot of strings behind this camapgin season.

    • Payroll Patriot
      September 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

      Thanks for correcting my lead. However, Dobelle, was a early political mentor for Bianchi. Its a small world in Pittsfield, as well as Disneyworld. Is MCLA in the mix?

    • danvalenti
      September 21, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

      DD
      Yes, you’ve cracked the case!I’m pulling as many strings as Jim Henson.

  10. Scott
    September 21, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    How could a wife pay her husband it windy make any sense maybe she did but they share a bank account anyways. They’re all crooked no one stands a chance the fire, police, teachers and other public employees own this town and why is don Davis so connected? Plumbers make good money so I’m curious as to what and who he’s connected to that motivates his involvement in local politics.

    • Gatos
      September 21, 2013 at 5:33 am #

      A campaign account is separate from personal accounts. All expenses and receipts, whether in money or in-kind, must be reported using specific forms and/or software to the City Clerk, several times during the campaign, in the case of City Council candidates. It doesn’t matter if the money or in-kind goes to your spouse or even yourself. All transactions must be reported.
      Mayoral candidates might have to report directly to the Commonwealth, I’m not sure. In any case, it’s all public information.

      • dusty
        September 21, 2013 at 7:21 am #

        Do school committee candidates know this? Sometimes the seemingly most educated are unaware of the rules. So I hear.

        • Payroll Patroit
          September 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

          dusty : Why do you think that the most educated are running for school committee? Caccamo either has to resign from his position in the school department or take no compensation for city council. This is a complete cf by the local media.

          • Gatos
            September 21, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

            Caccamo can certainly be on the City Council and work for the School Department. He would have to abstain from business related to the schools. He would not be the first city employee to be on the council.
            If anyone knows anything different, I will be happy to be corrected.

          • danvalenti
            September 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

            GATOS
            We aren’t sure of the law in this case, but we believe Caccamo can work for the schools AND serve on the city council, if he eschews one of the two pay checks. He also could not vote on anything pertaining to the schools. The question I would ask if I was a Ward 3 voter: Why would I want a councilor who could not represent me on 70% of the city’s budget?

  11. Payroll Patriot
    September 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    dusty : Why do you think the most educated are running for school committee? Ward 3 candidate Caccamo either has to resign from his job with the school department or take no money
    from the city council position on the City Council. Another Markham mentor.

  12. tito
    September 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    Markham gets a nice fifty g in pension, nice.

  13. tito
    September 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Looking at the Soldier On, there is an employee listed as receiving a twenty nine thousand dollar pension from the state and he currently works as an executive v p at Soldier On. Good work if you can get it.

    • levitan
      September 28, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      Are you enrolled in the Scoop Institute of Investigative Reporting?

      What is this fellow’s salary at Soldier On, how many VP’s are on the books there, and can you prove that this is even real information?

  14. Billy
    September 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    I have never seen a individual who feels above it all like our current mayor. He owns up to nothing even when the cold hard facts stare him in the face.when he is asked to answer hard questions about important issues and feels unable or unwilling he calls forth his GOB(goons of Bianchi). There is a old saying “show me who your friends are ill tell you about yourself”. I think the city is coming to terms with the facts that this mayor. Doesn’t want to do the hard work of governing.He would rather divide and deflect.I would expect nothing to happen in his second term it would take effort he is unable to give.I would expect more from his minions on the council though.They are easily recognizable by there blind loyalty and seem to run blocker when tough questions are raised. I would remind them their first loyalty is to the citizens

    • danvalenti
      September 21, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      BILLY
      THE PLANET agrees that the mayor is on cruise control, coasting if not asleep at the wheel. He doesn’t want to do the heavy lifting. Thanks for the comments.

    • Joe Blow
      September 22, 2013 at 8:00 am #

      He kind of reminds me of our President.

  15. Mr. X
    September 22, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    Let’s see, Bianchi provides free food and beverage to the public at an open to anybody event, and Mazzeo provides a mobile unit that offered free food and beverage to everybody working polls, everybody. Wow, what a couple of shiftless criminals! How bout a tar and feather event of these 2 at Park Square, careful if you get any donations from pleased patrons, better let the State know!

    • Joe Pinhead
      September 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

      X,
      While to the best of my knowledge no one is saying that this is on par with say Bonnie and Clyde type of crime it is in fact very telling. First it was the Mayor himself who campaigned on being transparent. Some of us (as fools) actually took him at his word never again mind you.
      We have seen at least a few examples of the servers getting screwed locally I believe there have been a number of cases resolved or settled regarding the methodology of tipping servers. The Mayor and/or Mrs. Mazzeo hopefully tipped the serving staff thus funds were transferred or did they skimp out on that as well? If either of them did do the right thing and see to it that the staff was tipped they would have or should have known to claim the entire event.
      Let’s say for example a candidate was running for office who wanted to encourage the building of let’s say electric buses. Would we the people not be up in arms (reference intended) if the CEO of that company threw a shindig and provided the public free drinks and hummingbird tongues without any documentation, registration etc.? I seem to recall a big meeting of all the POLS regarding a constitutional amendment to keep corporations out of politics if I recall correctly the Mayor was in favor of that amendment. Surly he knows Mazzeo’s is a corporation.
      I just wish the Mayor would pick a side of his mouth to speak out of and stick with it.
      After all its for the children

      • danvalenti
        September 23, 2013 at 6:29 am #

        As always, thanks JOE P.

      • levitan
        September 28, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

        Joe,

        You really are working this question regarding a plate of cheese, crackers, and eggplant parmigiann (stupid word is unwritable.)

        The Mayor’s race is now a $10K plus spectacle, and it is not fought on the floor of Mazzeos -no-longer-in-business location. $300 is chickennuggets, and does not compare to the prior Ruberto’s stunt of actually paying the indigent to show up and vote with no identification.

        It’s just another tempest here on PV. Good thing I brought my 02 tank and a cigar.

        • levitan
          September 28, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

          …and a sandwich for when I get tired.

  16. billy
    September 22, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    X
    it has nothing to do with the free food. these two individuals have been nothing but critical of their detractors. don’t try to cloud the facts and make it personal. that’s what they seem to be good at. I put it quite simply they didn’t obey the law and they’re not above it.would they want their children to have that kind of ethical behavior? if you can’t trust them with the small tasks would you trust with the big ones?

    • levitan
      September 28, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

      Would you really insist that Dan Bianchi would deliberately embarrass himself over a $500 ticket?

      I live in the lower level of economic distinction, and I tend to pay that sum just to head off ill-will. This type of complaint (Candidate X broke the law and did not report a $376 plate of donuts served in a defunct business) is petty and would not get me worked up if it were Malumphy, Lothrop, Yon, Barbalunga, Bianchi, Lothrop, Ruberto, GW Bush, or even Ghengis Khan.

  17. Foxy Lady
    September 22, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    The weekend is complete. The Red Sox, the Patriots and the Planet all winners. If not for DV this story of lawbreaking never sees the light of day. Write in DV for mayor on Tuesday .

    • Gatos
      September 22, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      Well, not THIS Tuesday. It’s only a preliminary election for Wards 1 and 3.

    • Scott
      September 22, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

      They won Fri and they won today why couldn’t they win for me on Sat when I was there? Good seats too had a blast sat on Coke corner.

      • Gatos
        September 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

        They must have known that you were present Scott! It happened to me a lot last year, only once this year.

  18. Scott
    September 22, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    It’s like that insurance commercial where the competitors pants catch on fire after he starts talking…

  19. #nomorebianchi
    September 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Hey dan how come two years ago you were all for Bianchi as mayor. Now this election season you’ve turned against him. Why what happened. Did everyone finally see that he is a liar and only wanted to pad his city retirement by becoming mayor. So say the mayor gets 10 votes and a write in candidate X gets 12 votes does that mean we get a new mayor

    • danvalenti
      September 23, 2013 at 6:29 am #

      12 votes gets you a new mayor in this case.

  20. #nomorebianchi
    September 22, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Hey dan how come two years ago you were all for Bianchi as mayor. Now this election season you’ve turned against him. Why what happened. Did everyone finally see that he is a liar and only wanted to pad his city retirement by becoming mayor. So say the mayor gets 10 votes and a write in candidate X gets 12 votes does that mean we get a new mayor

    • danvalenti
      September 23, 2013 at 6:28 am #

      #nomorebianchi
      Thanks for the question. Two years ago, I thought, based on the campaign, that Bianchi had the better set of answers for Pittsfield. I had also known him all my adult life, and found him to be trustworthy. My criticisms now have solely to do with the job he’s done as mayor. It’s nothing personal.

  21. smh
    September 23, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    Feels like this is all just an attempt to distract us from refocusing on the one truly BIG issue of our time, political campaign lawn signs on city property. Press on Terry!

    • danvalenti
      September 23, 2013 at 6:26 am #

      smh
      We don’t agree but we do love the bone dry humor and irony. Well done.

  22. levitan
    September 26, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    Interesting story, if true. But, still, I could care less about indiscretions that have no bearing on policy or interests beyond the delivery of 50 pounds of eggplant parm and donuts.

    Keep digging, there’s gotta be oil down there somewhere.

    • danvalenti
      September 26, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

      LEVITAN (ANAGRAM FOR VALENTI, HOW CLEVER!)
      Only the hopelessly naive do not see how law breaking or “indiscretions,” as you call them, do not bear on policy. We will keep digging, since we’ve already found the oil.

      • levitan
        September 27, 2013 at 6:55 am #

        You may be right, but I will not be losing my lunch over a couple boxes of donuts.

        Where’s the beef?