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Oct 31, 2016 11:33 AM

Hassan returning $51,000 donation after law firm appeared to reimburse partners

The Associated Press

CONCORD (AP) — Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan will return $51,000 in donations to her U.S. Senate and gubernatorial campaigns from a Massachusetts law firm after a newspaper investigation found the firm's partners received bonuses that matched their donations.

The Boston Globe's Spotlight team and the Center for Responsive Politics found that partners at the Thornton Law Firm donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic committees and candidates from 2010 through 2014, including $13,000 to Hassan's gubernatorial campaign two years ago and $38,000 to support her current bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte. During that same period, the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as "bonuses," including more than 280 in amounts that precisely matched their donations and were paid within 10 days.

A spokesman for the law firm said its donation reimbursement program was reviewed by outside lawyers and complied with relevant laws, but campaign finance experts said it raises numerous red flags because reimbursing people for their political donations is generally illegal.

"We had no idea about the practices inside this firm, and we assume that as the Globe reported, none of the other Republican or Democratic candidates who received contributions knew either. We will be returning the contributions from this firm," Hassan campaign spokesman Aaron Jacobs said.

In 2014, the state attorney general ordered Hassan's re-election campaign to return $24,000 to a union's political action committee because the donation missed a deadline. There is a $1,000 limit on donations given after someone officially declares a candidacy. Hassan received $25,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers' PAC a day after she entered the race.

"This is a troubling pattern that raises serious ethical and legal questions," Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson said.

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