Ross finance report is faulted

Failed to itemize credit card payments

Michael P. Ross attributed omissions to an ''honest error.'' Michael P. Ross attributed omissions to an ''honest error.''
By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / January 23, 2009
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Boston City Council President Michael P. Ross failed to itemize $17,500 worth of credit-card payments billed to his campaign account last year, which is a violation of state campaign-finance law. He also reimbursed himself $3,300 directly from the fund, without itemizing the campaign purpose, another violation.

Ross said yesterday the lack of disclosure in his campaign finance report, which was due on Tuesday, was an "honest error," and said his campaign treasurer is compiling the records and will file an amended report with the City Clerk by early next week.

"This is the first time that our campaign has had its own credit card, so we were unfamiliar with that particular requirement," Ross said in a telephone interview. "We are in the process of correcting that and we expect to have an amended filing in to the clerk's office by early next week."

Although Ross said 2008 was the first year his campaign had a credit card, a review of his 2007 campaign finance reports also shows unitemized payments to American Express totaling about $2,700 and unitemized reimbursements to himself of more than $5,000. Ross could not immediately explain the 2007 credit card payments.

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, said the disclo sure requirement for individual credit card charges is important. State law requires itemization of all individual campaign expenditures over $50.

"It's very important that the public knows about those additional expenditures, because there are always the questions raised: What was this for? Was it personal or was it for campaign use?" Wilmot said. "The law requires that they are detailed."

City Clerk Rosaria Salerno said the clerk's office does not regularly scour those reports for violations of campaign finance law unless there has been a history of problems in reporting by a particular councilor.

But after the Globe inquiries yesterday about the lack of itemizations, she said that would change.

"They're looked at, but I don't know that they're always scrutinized," said Salerno, a former city councilor. "And we certainly are going to be scrutinizing them henceforth."

Ross is not the only district city councilor whose finance report filed this week lacked itemizations for credit cards or personal reimbursements.

Councilor John Tobin paid off about $14,720 in credit card bills in 2008 but did not itemize individual charges. After the Globe inquired yesterday about the missing documents, he said his campaign staff is compiling the records.

"We never used to have a credit card, but we were paying out of pocket and then reimbursing ourselves, and there's nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't look good," Tobin said. "We thought it would be clearer to have the money come out of a credit card. My treasurer's going through the statements right now, and hopefully we will have them submitted by tomorrow."

Councilor Maureen Feeney, who was council president in 2008, collected $2,625 in reimbursements for herself but did not disclose the campaign-related purpose. Feeney's report also lists $2,195 in unexplained reimbursements to a top aide, Justin Holmes.

"This afternoon it came to my attention that the committee may be out of full compliance with some parts of its campaign finance report," Thomas Keaveny, Feeney's campaign chairman, said in a statement. "I have already been in contact with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign Political Finance to discuss the appropriate reporting mechanism for certain expenses. The committee sincerely regrets the oversight and we are working to immediately address this clerical error."

A Feeney aide said the reimbursements were for lunches, office supplies, and gifts for constituents, among other expenses.

Boston's nine district councilors are subject to the same state campaign finance regulations that apply to at-large candidates, mayoral candidates, and state legislative candidates, but their reports are filed directly with the city clerk instead of the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Also, district councilors and candidates for those offices are required to file only a single year-end report, not monthly statements, as candidates for higher office must.

Councilor Chuck Turner did not file a campaign finance report by the deadline. Instead, Turner, who was arrested by federal authorities in November on bribery and conspiracy charges, filed a letter stating that his report was not ready because his campaign treasurer was sick and that it would be filed by Jan. 26.

His wife, Terri Small-Turner, is his campaign treasurer and has been subpoenaed in that capacity by the US attorney's office in the case against her husband.

In a recent letter to supporters, Chuck Turner, who closed out 2007 with less than $1,000 in his campaign account, encouraged people who wanted to help pay for his legal defense to contribute to his campaign fund.

The annual filings show councilors raised and spent heavily in 2008, even though it was not an election year.

Ross took in the most money, $119,000, in 2008 and spent about $79,000, leaving him with a war chest of $195,000 for 2009. He raised more than the four councilors at large, two of whom are weighing challenges to Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Ross has more on hand than any councilor except Michael Flaherty, who had nearly $600,000 in the bank, including a savings account.

Tobin trailed Ross slightly in fund-raising, taking in $108,000 in 2008 and spending nearly $94,000, for an end-of-year balance of $132,000. Tobin said he is keeping his options open for a possible run for higher office, including mayor if Menino declines to seek reelection.

"If the mayor's race came up today, and I had $17 in the bank, I don't think it makes us too viable," he said.

Most of the money councilors spent in 2008 was for donations to various charitable organizations in their districts, flowers and meals for community events, along with political consultants, supplies, and office space. There were a couple of surprises.

Councilor Salvatore LaMattina spent $3,600 to lease a car for the entire year, and $783 in car insurance. Feeney, who is known in Dorchester for giving away ice cream to children at community block parties, paid $5,730 to a concessions dealer for use of the ice cream truck.

John C. Drake can be reached at

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