, Newburyport, MA

April 3, 2013

Actions by candidate raise questions

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — The actions of one of the five candidates running for election has blossomed into a controversy that’s ruffled feathers in town, both those who support the candidate and those who back others.

Candidate Paula Moore had organized a ham and bean supper at Salisbury’s Hilton Senior Center for Saturday night, March 23, which she advertised as a “fundraiser” for the Council on Aging’s patio building project. Moore ended up cancelling the meal at the last minute because its format could have run afoul of the state’s campaign and election financing laws.

Moore acted after getting a call from someone in the state Office of Campaign and Political Financing the day before her bean supper was scheduled to take place.

According to Jason Tait, spokesman for the OCPF, candidates for election are allowed to rent public buildings as long as all candidates have equal access to the facility and as long as the event isn’t a fundraiser.

Tait spoke hypothetically without revealing whether or not Moore had been under investigation. But Moore explained she came to the attention of the OCPF because it received a complaint about her actions.

“They asked a lot of questions and I answered them all correctly,” Moore said. “It turned out to be a grey area, and to be safe they advised I cancel it. It was too late for me to investigate it further, so I cancelled.”

Salisbury resident Chuck Colburn made an angry presentation to Board of Selectmen at last week’s meeting concerning the issue. Colburn found it distasteful that someone would have called the state agency to lodge a complaint against Moore. He challenged the responsible party to own up to his or her action and come forward.

So far, no one has.

On the night the supper would have taken place, Moore met her would-be guests in the parking lot of the Hilton Center, returning the $5 each had paid for a ticket.

“I didn’t get to all of them,” Moore said. “So I returned the rest of the money to the people who bought tickets on (the following) Monday at the senior center. I volunteer at the senior center so I was there.”

But something else Moore did while returning fees has again drawn criticism, for she distributed $10 gift certificates to some of those who had purchased the ill-fated tickets. Moore had purchased the gift cards for the prizes for the free raffle drawings she planned for the event.

“I had originally advertised free raffles as part of the fundraiser,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to be accused of false advertising, so I gave the gift certificates out.”

Moore said she didn’t give a certificate to everyone who’d purchased tickets. She estimated there were about half-a-dozen certificates she distributed.

Moore said the whole thing has been a learning experience and she’s wiser now.

“I should have used the word ‘event’ to describe it, instead of ‘fundraiser.’ “ she said.