CONCORD, NH (AP) — The publisher of a New Hampshire weekly newspaper accuses the state attorney general’s office of abusing the government after he was arrested for running ads for local races without marking them properly as political advertising.
The six misdemeanor charges allege Debra Paul, publisher of the Londonderry Times, failed to identify the advertisements with ‘appropriate language’ indicating they were advertisements and saying who paid for them as required by law in state, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office said in a news release, after reviewing cases dating back to 2019.
“This is clearly the case for a small business that needs to defend itself against excessive government,” Paul, 62, who is also a member of Londonderry City Council, replied in a statement.
“I would like to think that the Attorney General’s office has more important matters to deal with than sending out press releases about offenses like this,” the statement said. “With several unsolved homicides over the past year, that seems a bit absurd.”
The attorney general’s office first sent Paul a letter pointing out the omission of language in a political ad that aired in the weeks leading up to an election in March 2019, according to a police affidavit. The letter asked him to include the language in the future.
He issued a second letter in March 2021 after receiving a complaint about another political ad that did not receive the required “paid” language, and which a bureau investigator followed up with a phone call, according to the affidavit. .
The bureau sent him another letter in September saying another ad “did not contain” name and address information, and did not mark it as a “political ad.” She was told this was her “second and final warning” and that if the law was broken again, the attorney general’s office “may pursue appropriate enforcement action.”
After the attorney general’s office received more complaints this year, the newspaper’s February and March issues were reviewed, according to the affidavit. Two political ads leading up to a local election in March did not contain the “paid” language and a third had no “political ad” designation, he said.
Two candidates who had placed ads during this time told the interviewer that they had worked with Paul on them. They said they were unaware of the language requirements and any omissions were unintentional.
Paul, who along with her husband are the newspaper’s only two employees, was contacted by the investigator in May and said she originally believed the state’s complaint was about advertising rates, according to the report. affidavit. She said she was trying to review the ads and believed the “paid by” address information was only required on political signage, not ads, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit says in total that nearly 60 violations in The Times and a related publication have been counted between 2020 and this year.
“I understand someone is accusing me of neglecting to use the phrase ‘political ads,’ when it was obvious political advertising,” Paul said in his statement.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison. Paul, who is not in custody, is expected to be arrested on October 19.
“The Londonderry Times is one of a dwindling number of small newspapers in New Hampshire, as well as across the country,” its attorney, Tony Naro, said in a statement Friday. “The Londonderry Times is doing its best to produce a quality publication with a limited staff and a limited budget. Ms. Paul acted without criminal intent, denies the allegations and is presumed innocent.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said the office could not comment further on the matter, but said its election law unit receives hundreds of calls or complaints about political advertising each election cycle, and that the overwhelming majority of them are resolved without opening a case for formal investigation.
As an example of another matter investigated by the office, the spokesperson provided a letter dated August 8 and sent to the editor of a periodical who is running for election regarding a complaint he received about the publisher’s own campaign advertising. The letter said the candidate was not meeting campaign finance obligations and not marking the ads as political advertising.
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