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 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.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.”
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.