Fattman campaign finance case still unresolved

‘I will not talk about ongoing investigations,’ Healey says

IN APRIL 2021, the state’s campaign finance regulator referred evidence to Attorney General Maura Healey that he believed indicated Sen. Ryan Fattman; his wife, Worcester County Register of Probate Stephanie Fattman; and Jim Lyons, the head of the Massachusetts Republican Party, may have violated campaign finance laws.

There was a report last fall that a grand jury had been empaneled in the case, but since then nothing has happened. Many political insiders think the case is dead, but there’s been no public announcement either way – after nearly 1 ½ years.

Fattman declined to comment. He is up for reelection this year and is likely to cruise to victory because he is facing no opponent. Stephanie Fattman is not up for reelection.

In an interview in mid-August, Healey declined to say whether the case is still active.

“I cannot talk about it and I will not talk about ongoing investigations,” she said. “I cannot talk about any ongoing matters referred to my office for criminal investigations.”

Asked what was taking so long, given the fact that most of the evidence had been gathered by another agency, Healey said: “We have to go by the facts and the law and these processes take time.”

The case raises interesting legal questions. There is no limit on how much money a candidate’s campaign committee can donate to a town committee and no limit on what the town committee can donate to an individual candidate. But there is a $100 limit on what a campaign can donate to another campaign.

In August 2020, Sen. Fattman’s campaign donated $25,000 to the Sutton Republican Town Committee and the town committee over the next few months before the election made more than $30,000 in in-kind contributions to Stephanie Fattman’s campaign.

Ryan and Stephanie Fattman.

Taken in isolation, there is nothing wrong with any of the contributions. But the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance questioned whether the senator was using the town committee to sidestep the campaign-to-campaign contribution limits.

According to state campaign finance regulations, “a person may not make a contribution to a political committee on the condition or with the agreement or understanding that the funds or a substantial portion of the funds contributed must subsequently be contributed by that committee to any other committee.”

The Sutton Republican Town Committee is practically an offshoot of the Fattman family. It is chaired by Sen. Fattman’s brother, Anthony. The senator serves as secretary and the senator’s parents and wife also serve on the 12-member committee.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance referred the case to Healey, suggesting the senator’s donations were made to the town committee on the belief they would be passed along to his wife’s campaign. Sen. Fattman, in an unsuccessful lawsuit to block the office’s investigation and in public comments, suggested there was no understanding with the town committee. Fattman’s allies said what he did was no different from what other candidates have done countless times in the past.

The case has dragged on and on with no resolution.

Sen. Fattman created a legal defense fund at the end of June 2021 that has pulled in $179,490 through the end of September. Donors include Ellis Bateman of Dudley ($34,000), Mike Cane of Ashland ($20,000), Imperial Ford of Mendon ($12,500), Ve Properties of Northbridge ($10,000), and Arthur and Debra Remillard of Sutton ($5,000 apiece). Sen. Fattman kicked in $2,500 and his campaign donated $6,265.

The senator also stepped down as the treasurer of his wife’s campaign last October after nearly four years in the post. He was replaced by Benjamin Gibbons, who is also a member of the Sutton Republican Town Committee. So is Gibbons’s wife.