By Rick Sobey
LITTLETON -- The Littleton selectmen candidates who received thousands of dollars from the Donelans in disguised checks were fined $500 as a result of not detecting the campaign-finance violations.
Selectman Alex McCurdy and 2010 selectmen candidate Rich Carter paid $500 to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) after the state office found that the co-owners of Donelan's Supermarkets provided $8,000 to family members and personal friends who then donated the money to the selectmen candidates.
"(OCPF's) reasoning was that I should have detected it," said McCurdy, the town's former fire chief who was elected to three-year terms in 2009 and 2012. "According to the law, not knowing is not an excuse. If an illegal action occurs, you're part of the illegal action whether you know it or not, and I accept that assessment."
According to a March 22 disposition agreement between the Donelans and OCPF, John and Joseph Donelan have made a $25,000 payment to the state's general fund to resolve the campaign-finance violations from 2009, 2010 and 2012. The Donelans also agreed not to make any political contributions until Jan. 1, 2016.
OCPF found that the Donelans "disguised the true source of contributions and made excess contributions" to McCurdy and Carter. Contributors are not allowed to disguise the true origin of campaign donations, and an individual can donate a maximum of $500 a year to a candidate. The total amount of excess contributions to McCurdy and Carter was $5,000.
The selectmen candidates didn't know that the contributions they received were disguised donations from the Donelans, according to OCPF, but that didn't stop a $500 fine for the candidates.
"I'm innocent that I didn't know that the money was going to an intermediary, but the campaign-finance law says that you should have a system set up to detect this," McCurdy said. "It requires a lot more digging into each and every donation, and it would be more time consuming, but I'll do whatever steps necessary to make sure this never happens again.
"I'll be over-the-top cautious," he added. "If somebody gives me $3.50, I will contact them and ask them if anybody gave them this money and if they're familiar with campaign-finance law. I don't take this matter lightly."
If McCurdy and Carter run again for office, the candidates and their committees will need to "create and implement a procedure to screen contributions received to ensure compliance with the campaign-finance law," according to an OCPF letter to each candidate.
Carter, who lost a tight 2010 election against incumbent Joe Knox and candidate Gregg Champney, did not respond to four messages left on his cellphone.
The Donelans said their motivation for using family and friends to make campaign contributions was to remain publicly neutral in Littleton's local elections, according to the disposition agreement.
Donelan's Supermarkets was founded in 1948 in Littleton, and the local chain expanded to Acton and Lincoln over the next several years, according to its website. In 1992, Donelan's opened its fourth location in Groton, and the local business added a fifth location in Pepperell in 1994. Donelan's opened its sixth store in Wayland a year later.