NEWBURYPORT — Opt Out Newburyport, a local group that spearheaded the successful effort to ban retail marijuana shops in the city, must disclose how much money it spent during the campaign — a disclosure it has yet to make, according to city clerk records.
State law requires Opt Out Newburyport, or any ballot question-related committee formed within 18 days before the election Tuesday, to report how much it spent by Jan. 21. Failing to do so could result in a fine of up to $50,000, according to Section 22 of the state's campaign finance laws.
Earlier in the year, the group introduced a ballot question that asked residents to vote "yes" to ban local retail marijuana shops. A counter group, Newburyport Cannabis Action Network, asked residents to vote "no."
On Tuesday, the "yes" campaign secured 52% of the vote and "no" — which would thereby have allowed retail pot stores — received 48%. There was a 210-vote margin, 2,777 to 2,567.
A day before voters went to the polls, Opt Out Newburyport filed a form with City Clerk Richard Jones to declare formation of the group. That form, which was posted on the city's website, states Opt Out Newburyport was created Monday and was a "resident movement with no officers or entity formation."
The form, signed by Lynn Schow, does not include expenditures and instead includes a handwritten note stating: "No funds have been solicited or raised or accepted."
But Jason Tait of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance said when it comes to ballot questions "any money spent or raised to support or oppose a question must be disclosed."
Tait went on to say that should someone want his office to review a situation to determine the legality of a campaign finance matter, a request for review can be submitted.
"Our legal department would then collect facts and details and make a determination," he said.
In an email to The Daily News, Schow wrote that her group would comply with state law.
"Everything in the campaign was provided by Newburyport residents 'in-kind' and we are in the process of working with the campaign volunteers to compile information as to the value of those in-kind expenditures, which we will provide to City Clerk Richard Jones in due course," Schow wrote.
The question of how much money Opt Out Newburyport spent during the campaign has been on the minds of many Cannabis Action Network members and other residents.
In the weeks and days leading up to the election, Opt Out Newburyport sent out a citywide mailer, paid for an advertising sticker to appear Monday on copies of The Daily News, and flooded the city with campaign signs.
When Asked repeatedly by Daily News reporters how much the campaign spent, Opt Out Newburyport declined to answer.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.