U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

New Hampshire newspaper publisher arrested, charged with violating political ad laws

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 24, 2022

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Unnecessary use of force?
December 7, 2023 - Update

New Hampshire newspaper publisher convicted, fined for mislabeling political ads

Debra Paul, the publisher of the New Hampshire weekly newspaper Londonderry Times, was convicted Dec. 7, 2023 for five misdemeanor counts of violating political advertising requirements and later fined $620, a Derry District Court clerk confirmed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Paul was investigated and warned by the state’s Election Law Unit in 2019 and 2021 for failing to correctly identify political advertisements as ads, according to the state’s Department of Justice. She was then arrested on August 2022 and charged with six misdemeanors, before pleading not guilty two months later.

Paul was acquitted on one of the charges, the state announced.

Paul’s lawyer, Tony Naro, told the Tracker via email that while he and his client are disappointed in the verdict, they were thankful that the court adopted their sentencing recommendation.

“Deb Paul has been and will continue to be a tireless advocate for the First Amendment and the right of the people to be informed,” Naro wrote, “[and] can finally move on from this and continue her work.” In his email, he also told the Tracker, “There is currently a bi-partisan bill pending that would … strike the ‘political advertisement’ requirement from the statute.”

October 19, 2022 - Update

NH publisher pleads not guilty to charges of violating political ad law

The publisher of the Londonderry Times, a New Hampshire weekly newspaper, waived her arraignment and pleaded not guilty on Oct. 19, 2022, to charges of illegally publishing local political advertisements without correctly identifying them as ads.

New Hampshire’s attorney general charged publisher Debra Paul with six misdemeanors in August for allegedly violating state election laws that require political ads be identified with appropriate language and disclose who paid for them when published in newspapers.

According to The Associated Press, a police affidavit cited nearly 60 violations in the Londonderry Times and a related publication between 2020 and this year. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker contacted Paul’s lawyer, who did not comment further on the case.

August 24, 2022

The publisher of a New Hampshire-based weekly newspaper, the Londonderry Times, was arrested on Aug. 24, 2022, and charged with publishing political advertisements without correctly identifying them as ads.

According to a press release by Attorney General John M. Formella, publisher Debra Paul was charged with six misdemeanor counts of violating state laws on political advertisements. Paul had previously been investigated and warned by the state’s Election Law Unit for failing to comply with state election law in 2019 and 2021. According to the statement, Paul was issued a final warning letter about properly labeling the ads in September 2021.

In a statement emailed to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Paul condemned the state’s actions against the newspaper.

“This is clearly a case of a small business needing to defend itself against overreaching government. To threaten a small business owner with jail time over something this insignificant is very heavy handed,” Paul wrote.

Paul’s lawyer, Tony Naro, told the Tracker in an emailed statement that he could not make public statements about pending matters but denied any wrongdoing by Paul. Naro also said Paul arrived at the police station after making arrangements to turn herself in for processing before being released.

“The Londonderry Times does their absolute best to put out a quality publication with limited staff and a limited budget. Ms. Paul acted with no criminal intent, denies the allegations, and is presumed innocent. It is our intention to handle this matter exclusively in the court system where it belongs and not in the press. While this matter plays out in court, we ask for the public, and the media, to keep an open mind and not prejudge this case.”

If convicted, Paul faces a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000 per charge. An arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2022.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].