Fattmans challenge OCPF investigation as biased
Case involves donations made to Republican Party
WORCESTER COUNTY REPUBLICAN power couple Ryan and Stephanie Fattman are arguing that the director of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance is acting improperly in his investigation of them, a probe that apparently relates to donations made by Ryan Fattman’s campaign committee.
Ryan Fattman, a Webster Republican who is the Senate assistant minority leader, his wife Stephanie Fattman, who is the Worcester County register of probate, and the Sutton Republican Town Committee filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court against Michael Sullivan, the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, challenging actions of OCPF. Sullivan retired in 2019 but has returned temporarily until a replacement can be selected.
A judge had temporarily impounded some of the documents in the case. But at an open court hearing on Friday, conducted via Zoom, and in court filings, some details of the Fattmans’ complaints were made public. After the hearing, at which an attorney for OCPF said the agency would still refuse to release details of the underlying investigation, Fattman made his own version of the investigation public in a lengthy statement.
“I will not let a biased director overreach his authority,” Fattman said in his statement. “I will not allow him to make false claims and accusations behind closed doors. And I will not be bullied in a matter that can have serious consequences.”
Sullivan provided the Fattmans with notice of the investigation and offered them the opportunity to provide their own evidence. The Fattmans asked OCPF to give them all the evidence OCPF had collected against them, and objected when Sullivan refused to turn that evidence over.
Richard Baldwin, an attorney for the Fattmans and the Sutton town committee, compared it to sending a letter accusing someone of running a red light, without saying when or where or providing a picture. “Unless we know what the evidence is, it’s hard to say there’s evidence to the contrary,” Baldwin said.
But Sullivan’s attorneys say under established OCPF rules, witness interviews and materials obtained via an official summons are not provided to the person being investigated during initial proceedings. In fact, he says the law requires that information be kept confidential under the same law used to require secrecy in grand jury proceedings.
The Fattmans are also arguing that Sullivan is biased against them, because of a statement he made in a meeting in which he said, “I don’t care what the law says.” Attorneys for Sullivan say that comment was taken out of context. It was made in response to the Fattmans’ attorney’s “lengthy and repetitive legal argument about the interpretation of a regulation,” according to their court filing. Assistant Attorney General Julie Green said what Sullivan meant was he wanted to hear arguments related to the facts of the case, rather than an interpretation of the law.
The Fattmans are also unhappy that Sullivan tried to speed up the hearing process to get it wrapped up before a new director replaces Sullivan on April 12.
Baldwin argued in court that Sullivan’s timing was meant “to get one last defendant for his trophy case before he leaves.” But Judge Christine Roach dismissed that characterization, saying she sees nothing unusual about a public official trying to clear their docket before leaving office.
The Fattmans are asking the judge to require OCPF to provide them with the evidence against them and to require Sullivan to recuse himself. They want the judge to stop OCPF from referring their case to the attorney general’s office until a decision is made on these matters.
However, Green said the attorney general’s office, which represents OCPF and Sullivan, will make its own motion to impound documents that reveal the nature of their investigation due to laws that keep investigations confidential.
Jeffrey Pyle, an attorney for public radio station WBUR and reporter Todd Wallack, who have been fighting to open the proceedings, argued that all documents should be made public. He noted that the people involved, on both sides of the case, are prominent public officials, and the investigation involves election and campaign finance laws. “The nature of the parties could not be more public than what you have here,” Pyle said. “The nature of the controversy could not be more public.”
After the hearing, Ryan Fattman released a statement giving his version of the allegations. Fattman said investigators are alleging that he violated state laws regarding how much money a candidate can contribute to another candidate. The dispute appears to revolve around whether Fattman used his campaign committee to donate to a political party – to which he can give an unlimited amount – or to another candidate, in which case he can only give $100.
Fattman did not provide details regarding which donations OCPF flagged as improper.
According to public campaign finance filings, Ryan Fattman’s political committee gave $25,000 to the Sutton Republican Town Committee in 2020, and the Sutton Republican Town Committee spent around $35,000 supporting Stephanie Fattman’s campaign.
Ryan Fattman said in his statement that he did not take filing a lawsuit lightly. But he reiterated his concerns that Sullivan was biased against him, refused to provide him with evidence, and hurried to complete the investigation before his successor took over. “Sullivan’s troubling statements and actions – taken behind closed doors while falsely accusing us of violating campaign finance rules – left us strongly convinced that his investigation had nothing to do with the law, and everything to do with politics,” Fattman said. For example, Fattman accused Sullivan of saying, “I feel like you violated the law.” He also said Sullivan scheduled a hearing at a time Fattman could not attend.“Such a cavalier approach to such an important duty with such potentially serious consequences erodes and undermines the public trust,” Fattman said.
The next stage of the is investigation is for OCPF to decide whether to refer the case to the attorney general. The attorney general could either take criminal action, civil action, or no action.