AG candidates fight over fundraising, credentials 

All support national role for next attorney general 

IN AN HOUR-LONG DEBATE on Wednesday, the three Democrats running for attorney general issued sharp barbs over each other’s credentials and fundraising but largely agreed on many of the substantive issues.  

All three – Andrea Campbell, Shannon Liss-Riordan and Quentin Palfrey – pledged to continue to the work of current attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey. They all declined to criticize Healey even when given opportunities by the moderators, WBUR’s Tiziana Dearingand WCVB’s Sharman Sacchetti. 

For example, Sacchetti noted that Healey sued the Trump administration over 100 times but never the Biden administration, and asked how to ensure nonpartisan rigor in choosing cases. Dearing followed up by asking how to balance having a local and national focus. 

Campbell answered by noting that Healey supports her candidacy, a fact she repeated throughout the debate. Campbell said she will continue to “show up nationally,” particularly in areas like protecting abortion rights.  

Liss-Riordan, who has built her career filing suits against large companies on behalf of workers, said she will “expand on and continue the critical work” of Healey, particularly her work suing corporations like Purdue Pharma and ExxonMobil. 

All three candidates said the attorney general has to take national stances and address local issues. “We cannot choose between them,” Palfrey said. 

All the candidates pledged to take on public corruption, including police corruption, though in slightly different ways. Palfrey said he would support eliminating qualified immunity for police officers, a legal doctrine that shields public officials from lawsuits while they are performing their jobs. Liss-Riordan would require police departments to be transparent about racial data related to arrests. Campbell cited the need to address issues like overtime fraud and public corruption in municipal police departments. 

All three said they support raising the tax rate on income over $1 million to fund education and transportation. 

All three pledged to use consumer protection laws to crack down on deceptive practices by crisis pregnancy centers, which are generally faith-based clinics that seek to help pregnant women and take an anti-abortion perspective.  

Throughout the debate, the candidates tried to draw attention to their unique credentials and experiences.  

Many of Liss-Riordan’s comments drew on her work suing corporations. She promised to take “big polluters” to court and use any penalties obtained to invest in environmental projects. Asked how to address opioid addiction, she talked about cracking down on “fake sober homes” that exploit people with addiction and about suing companies for their role in causing opioid addiction. “That’s the type of impact litigation I’ve been doing and winning throughout my career,” she said. 

Palfrey drew on his work in the Obama and Biden administrations, in science and technology policy, and as acting general counsel for the Department of Commerce. Asked how to combat white supremacy, he said he worked on an interagency group at the White House formed to counter violent extremism. Asked how to deal with failing conditions on the MBTA, Palfrey said his experience working in the federal government prepared him to work with the Federal Transit Administration, which is conducting a safety review.  

Palfrey placed the blame for the MBTA’s problems squarely with Gov. Charlie Baker and pledged an independent review by the attorney general’s office. “This is on him when there are trains literally on fire,” Palfrey said.  

Campbell talked often about her lived experience. She mentioned her brother who died in Department of Correction custody while discussing the “sense of urgency” she would bring to prison reform. Talking about the need to have a hotline where people can report white supremacist activities, she said the attorney general must take steps to track racist activities. “As a person of color, I don’t have luxury not to,” she said.  

The candidates repeatedly criticized each other for the ways in which they are funding their campaigns. Palfrey attacked Campbell for getting support from super PACs and accepting donations from business leaders in her run for Boston mayor. “We need an attorney general who doesn’t have conflicts of interest from millions of dollars in super PAC contributions,” Palfrey said. He suggested Campbell would have to recuse herself from major cases involving her corporate donors, which include business leaders from companies like Walmart, Bain Capital, and Netflix.  

Campbell turned on Liss-Riordan, whom she accused of “attempting to buy the election” by spending millions of dollars of her own money on the campaign.  

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Liss-Riordan said Campbell holds a “cynical view” if she thinks voters can be bought. She said Campbell’s contributions come from “a who’s who of lobbyists” for the fossil fuel industry and others. “I won’t be beholden to special interests,” she said. 

The debate was sponsored by WBUR, WCVB Channel 5, and The Boston Globe