Are Spilka and Tarr PACs at risk?

Others could be caught up in Sullivan’s campaign finance “reinterpretation’

ON APRIL 12, Bill Campbell took over as the new director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and immediately faced one of the most controversial political hot potatoes any new director could possibly inherit.

Campbell’s predecessor, Michael Sullivan, scored a last-minute political point by referring a case involving Republican State Sen. Ryan Fattman, Worcester Country Register of Probate Stephanie Fattman, and the Massachusetts Republican Party (MassGOP) to Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey.

OCPF’s longstanding regulations allow candidates to donate $100 a year to other candidates and candidates can donate an “unlimited amount” of money to political party committees. The rules also allow political party committees to make an unlimited amount of in-kind donations to individual candidates.

Sullivan’s actions involving the matter were anything but ordinary. No details on the matter were released, but Sullivan apparently focused on whether Sen. Fattman’s campaign committee, by donating to the MassGOP, which in turn supported Republican candidates, including Stephanie Fattman’s campaign committee, circumvented the $100 limit on candidate-to-candidate donations.

Sullivan’s after-the-fact reinterpretation of a longstanding OCPF rule comes with a lot of implications for other lawmakers, many of whom have made donations in the same manner. Based on OCPF publicly available data, Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka and Republican Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr should pay particularly close attention.

Political action committees (PACs) directed by Spilka and Tarr used a slight variation on the practice flagged by Sullivan. PACs can donate $500 to a campaign committee, and they can donate up to $5,000 to a party organization. That is their legal right, but, if Sullivan’s last-minute reinterpretation is applied equally, Spilka, Tarr, and many others may be in for a surprise.

According to OCPF data, Spilka’s Democratic Senate PAC on July 15 made a contribution to the Massachusetts Democratic Party (MassDems) of $2,500. Twelve days later, on July 27, the MassDems made an expenditure to Amaury Dujardin for $3,000. The MassDems described this expenditure on their OCPF report as “support for Sue Moran.”

Dujardin is a consultant to Sen. Susan Moran’s campaign. The Falmouth Democrat’s campaign committee paid Dujardin nearly $6,000 between March 26 and June 17 and nearly $7,100 between September 11 and December 8, according to her campaign finance records. Moran won a special election in May and faced a rematch with her opponent in November.

Similarly, on September 12, 2014, Tarr’s campaign committee donated $3,000 to his MA Republican State Senate PAC. On October 17, 2014, Tarr’s Republican State Senate PAC donated $2,500 to the Rutland Republican Town Committee, which on April 18, 2015, donated nearly $1,500 to a printing company that was used by Republican Michael Valanzola. The town committee donation was described in the expense report as “Valanzola.”

Under Sullivan’s re-interpretation of the rules, it would be easy for new OCPF Director Campbell to make the case that the Spilka and Tarr Senate PAC contributions violated the limit on PAC contributions to candidates by donating funds to party organizations, which in turn used that money to support the candidates they wanted to help.

Meet the Author

Paul D. Craney

Board Member & Spokesman, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance
I personally do not think Senate President Spilka or Senate Minority Leader Tarr violated the law, just like I do not think the Fattmans or the MassGOP violated the law by doing something similar.

Long-standing campaign finance rules have been very clear and both parties benefit on its clarity. Common sense tells you that both the Democratic and Republican parties benefit by having their candidates and their PACs support them and it’s expected that partisan parties are there to support their candidates. However, Spilka and Tarr should pay attention to this case. If Sullivan’s after-the-fact reinterpretation stands, these are just a few of the many donations that would be open to future referral.

Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.