Does 26-year-old case parallel Fattman situation?

OCPF cracked down on earmarked donations via state GOP

STATE CAMPAIGN finance regulators handled a case 26 years ago in which the circumstances were similar to a situation today involving Republican Sen. Ryan Fattman and his wife, Stephanie Fattman, the Republican register of probate in Worcester County. The 1995 case ended with a disposition agreement requiring the rollback of donations made through the Massachusetts Republican Party.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance has not disclosed what it is looking at with regard to the Fattmans, but a lawsuit filed by the two politicians revealed the existence of the probe, whose focus appears to be a series of donations. According to campaign finance records, Ryan Fattman donated $25,000 last August from his campaign account to the Sutton Republican Town Committee, which in turn made more than $30,000 in in-kind donations to Stephanie Fattman’s reelection campaign over the course of several months.

The question appears to be whether these were two separate, unrelated transactions, or whether the Sutton Republican Town Committee was acting as a conduit for the senator to supply a large amount of campaign funds to his wife’s reelection effort. The senator would have been limited to a $100 donation if his campaign had donated directly to his wife’s campaign.

The Sutton Republican Town Committee is chaired by Ryan Fattman’s brother and the senator serves as secretary. Stephanie Fattman and Ryan Fattman’s parents also serve on the 12-member town committee.

The case has drawn significant attention because the Fattmans are considered rising stars in the state Republican Party. The Fattmans, in a lawsuit, alleged Michael Sullivan, the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, is biased against them. Six former heads of the state Republican Party and a spokesman for the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance have written op-eds criticizing Sullivan’s handling of the case, while a former legal counsel of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance wrote an op-ed supporting Sullivan. A Superior Court judge sided with Sullivan in the lawsuit filed by the Fattmans.

The case in 1995 revolved around Harvey Hurvitz, who at the time was the chair of the Committee to Elect Ronald Whitney to the Legislature. Hurvitz made two donations to the Massachusetts Republican Party – one for $2,000 on September 11 and another for $1,560.51 on September 14. On September 11, the Massachusetts Republican Party made an in-kind donation to Whitney’s campaign committee of $3,560.51.

“Hurvitz intended to make $3,560.51 in contributions to the Whitney Committee via the Republican State Committee, in a manner that would disguise the true origin of the contributions and exceed the limits imposed by the campaign finance law,” said the disposition agreement with the Republican State Committee.

The disposition agreement required the Massachusetts Republican Party to refund $3,560.51 to Hurvitz and for Hurvitz to remit the money plus another $1,500 in personal funds to the state of Massachusetts “as a payment in the nature of a civil forfeiture.” In return, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance agreed not to refer Hurvitz to the attorney general for violations of state law.

The disposition agreement with the Republican State Committee said the committee “acknowledges that a contribution cannot be given to a state party committee if the making of such contribution is conditioned on a subsequent contribution by the state party committee to a particular candidate. Such ‘earmarking’ of contributions would violate Massachusetts General Laws, chapter 55, Section 10.”

It’s unclear whether the $25,000 contribution last August by Sen. Fattman to the Sutton Republican Town Committee came with any conditions.

The disposition agreements in 1995 were signed by Sullivan, who was the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance even then. William Vernon, who was the executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party at the time, signed the disposition agreement on behalf of the party. Jim Rappaport, a coauthor of the recent op-ed supporting the Fattmans, was party chairman in 1995.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Rappaport said he did not remember the Hurvitz case, and cautioned that the public still does not know the exact nature of the investigation into the Fattmans. “The obvious difference here [in the Hurvitz case] is that there were clear symmetries between the contributions and the expenditures.  I have not seen anything that points to that happening in the Fattman cases,” Rappaport said in an email. “Secondly, I know that people contribute to the party because they want to help the cause, or, in not so rare circumstances, particular people.  Very few people are giving contributions to the RGA [Republican Governors Association] or the DGA [Democratic Governors Association] for the common good, but rather to help their candidate – one of the reasons why I have supported disclosure as being more effective than putting laws and regulations in place that are mere speed bumps.”

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said the Hurvitz case is so old it doesn’t show up on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance website. He said if the state campaign finance office deems contributions to state parties as a potential earmark violation it could trigger a host of investigations because politicians from both parties do it all the time.

He repeated a point that he made in his op-ed, that most cases of this sort are settled with public resolution letters and not referrals to the attorney general’s office. He noted a recent case from last month where Josh Mason, a Democrat running for the Legislature, listed a total of $16,200 donated to his campaign as loans, when in fact the money was an improper donation from his parents.