Amherst charter spending nears $3,500

Staff Writer
Published: 3/24/2016 2:38:39 AM

AMHERST – Groups campaigning for and against the question on Tuesday’s election ballot asking voters to form a charter commission to study town government, and endorsing candidates running for the commission, have spent close to a total of $3,500.

Based on financial forms provided to Town Clerk Sandra Burgess, a political action committee called Amherst for Change is supporting nine candidates it wants voters to select, while two ballot question committees are also in place, one urging rejection of a commission, the other supporting its formation.

The bulk of the money spent so far has been by Amherst for Change, the PAC that has used $2,792.05 to promote nine residents to serve on the commission. If formed, the commission would take between 18 months and two years to  study possible changes to the current town government, which includes an elected Select Board, a 240-member Town Meeting and a professional town manager.

“We’re raising the money we need to do the advertising we need,” said Jerry Guidera, who organized the political action committee.

The nine candidates it has endorsed are Andrew Churchill, Thomas Fricke, Nicholas Grabbe, Mandi Jo Hanneke, Philip Jackson, Bernard Kubiak, Maureen Raab, Irvin Rhodes and Julia Rueschemeyer.

The publicity on behalf of these candidates has included advertisements in newspapers, social media promotions and postcards sent to residents, as well as information on the amherstforchange.com website that includes links to video statements by candidates recorded by Amherst Media.

The largest donor to Amherst for Change is businessman Barry Roberts, who provided $500.

In a letter Guidera sent to supporters, he describes the nine who are being endorsed as “a dedicated group of neighbors with a variety of perspectives and experiences who share one thing in common - they believe it's time to make changes to our governance structure.”

Guidera, who is also on the steering committee for Amherst for All, the group that collected the 3,457 signatures to get the question on ballot, said that the PAC was created to meet regulations of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

“To be in compliance with state law we had to form a PAC,” Guidera said. “Amherst for Change will only last as long as the election. By next Wednesday, we will dissolve.”

Opponents raise $765

Meanwhile, the ballot question committee to oppose the formation of the charter commission, Town Meeting Works, has raised $765, but spent just $100 between Feb. 29 and March 11. That money was used to buy lawn signs urging residents to vote against Question 1.

Campaign chairman Michael Greenebaum said the committee is using signs and door-to-door canvassing to reach voters.

“We are trying to get word out through word of mouth,” Greenebaum said.

Its largest donor, Maurianne Adams, who contributed $200, is one of 19 candidates running for the commission.

Town Meeting Works organizers also decided to add information about eight candidates it supports to the townmeetingworks.org website, though has not formed a political action committee.

“It’s something less than a slate, but something more than a casual list,” Greenebaum said.

The website states to “please vote for the following candidates who would help ensure a fair analysis of town governance options should the charter initiative succeed.”

They are Adams, Margaret Gage, Frank Gatti, Robert Greeney, Janet McGowan, Jennifer McKenna, Diana Stein and Gerald Weiss.

Guidera said he is concerned that this endorsement may violate the rules of the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Jason Tait, spokesman for the state agency, said that, in general, ballot question committees can only raise money to support or oppose ballot questions and cannot use resources to support or oppose candidates.

“Ballot question committees can raise unlimited funds, including business donations, but candidates have limits and cannot take corporate funds,” Tait said. “That’s the big reason why ballot question committees cannot support or oppose candidates.”

The other two charter commission candidates, Amy Gates and Christopher Riddle, did not receive endorsements from either faction.

Amherst for All, the group that began the signature campaign for a charter commission in September and completed it in December, raised $454.99 between Jan. 1 and March 21, and spent $501.60 for newspaper advertising during that time.

Guidera said Amherst for All still has a role, with weekend campaigning anticipated. 

“Amherst for All is charged with getting the vote out. Amherst for Change is charged with getting the slate elected,” Guidera said.

He observed that if all 3,457 who signed the petitions come to the polls Tuesday, that would more than double the 7.35 percent voter turnout at the 2015 town election.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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