Mass. Fiscal Alliance’s hollow defense of dark money

State regulators right to demand disclosure of advocacy group donors

THE DARK MONEY political operation Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance has been mounting a campaign against regulatory changes proposed by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to enhance disclosure of money in politics. OCPF’s proposals are moderate and reasonable and should be implemented.

MassFiscal’s Paul Craney complained earlier this week in CommonWealth that that OCPF “has become increasingly aggressive in asserting that more donors to advocacy groups be publicly disclosed.” Good news!

Has no one else noticed that three of the four ballot question campaigns in 2016 were found to have been conducted with massive illegal contributions? If not for OCPF the citizens of Massachusetts would never know that the question proposing a slots parlor in Revere (foreign money, by the way), opposition to marijuana legalization, and, most importantly, the charter schools question were all funded by cabals of wealthy individuals. It’s a monumental scandal.

Mass Fiscal expresses particular concern that proposed regulatory language would allow OCPF to determine that a donor “knows or has reason to know” that a donor’s funds will be used by an organization to make a contribution, independent expenditure, or electioneering communication based upon a finding that the “timing and context of the donations” indicate the donor had such knowledge. But that isn’t so far off the existing regulation.

When OCPF found that Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy (which collapsed in fundraising and #metoo scandals last week) had operated in violation of Massachusetts law, it conducted a careful, 10-month investigation focusing on “timing and context.” OCPF subpoenaed bank records establishing the relationship between FESA and the ballot committee Great Schools Massachusetts and found that:

A review of FESA’s bank records showed that FESA’s transfers to the GSM Committee closely followed FESA’s receipts from individuals, e.g., during one typical period in August, 2016, individuals contributed $2,500,000 to FESA; within one week of receiving these donations, FESA made five separate wire transfers to the GSM Committee, each of $500,000.

It’s a bit laughable that MassFiscal Alliance hides behind a Supreme Court case that protected the identities of NAACP leaders from violent reprisals in the Alabama of the 1950s. The secret patrons MassFiscal shields have little to concern them with about violent reprisals. In the 2010 US Supreme Court case of Doe v. Reed, Justice Antonin Scalia – no friend of regulating political money – offered a good piece of advice:

Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously . . . hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

Meet the Author

Maurice Cunningham

Assoc. Prof. of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston
There is no free speech issue here. MassFiscal’s furtive funders can say what they want through the organization, as loudly as they want. But citizens have a right to understand who is spending all that money trying to influence them.

Maurice Cunningham is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston and contributes to the blog MassPoliticsProfs at As an educator in the UMass system, he is a union member.