Judge rules against Fattmans in campaign finance case
Refuses to block possible referral to attorney general
A SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE on Tuesday refused to prohibit the head of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance from referring the results of his investigation of Sen. Ryan Fattman and his wife Stephanie, the register of probate in Worcester County, to Attorney General Maura Healey.
The Fattmans, rising stars in the state Republican Party, alleged that Michael Sullivan, the head of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, was biased against them, acted improperly during his investigation, and refused to release all the evidence he had gathered so they could properly refute the charges.
Under state law, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance has no enforcement powers. Its job is to gather information secretly, much like a grand jury, and give the target of an investigation the right to refute the charges. If the office still feels a crime has been committed after giving the target an opportunity to refute the charges, the office can pass its investigative materials off to the attorney general, who will make her own determination about criminal prosecution.
In her 18-page decision, Judge Christine Roach sided with Sullivan on all the key issues, ruling that he was not required to give the Fattmans all of his evidence and that he was not required to recuse himself even though he allegedly said “I don’t care about the law” in one interaction with the senator. Roach also refused to block a potential referral to the attorney general because there was no evidence such a referral would cause “irreparable harm.”
The exact nature of Sullivan’s investigation is unclear, largely because the probe is supposed to be as secret as a grand jury proceeding. But it appears from court documents and statements by Ryan Fattman that Sullivan is focused on what appears to be a gray area of campaign finance law.
The law limits how much a candidate’s campaign committee can donate to another candidate’s campaign committee to $100. But the law does not restrict how much a candidate’s campaign committee can donate to a Republican town committee, nor does it restrict how much a town committee can donate to a candidate in in-kind contributions.
Sen. Fattman in August 2020 donated $25,000 to the Sutton Republican Town Committee, which in turn made more than $30,000 in what appear to be in-kind donations to the reelection campaign of Stephanie Fattman for register of probate, who was being challenged by a long-time employee of the probate office.
The donations would appear to be legal taken individually, but Sullivan may be looking at the donation pattern as a workaround to the law. The town committee is hardly a neutral third party. Sen. Fattman is the secretary of the committee and his brother is the chair. Stephanie Fattman and Sen. Fattman’s mother and father also serve on the committee, filling five of the 12 positions.
None of the details of the case have emerged in the court proceedings, although Sullivan has disclosed that he provided the Fattmans with some of his evidence, including public campaign finance reports, emails and texts among the plaintiffs, and certain invoices.
Sen. Fattman issued a statement saying he went to court to shed light on and “unfair and biased procedure rushed behind closed doors” by Sullivan, who will step down in a matter for days.“Outgoing director Sullivan’s motivations on this matter remain a mystery,” Fattman said. “We have been left in the dark, as has been the public. However, we voluntarily released public statements and voluntarily released all our legal briefs filed in court so the public can have complete transparency. Unfortunately, as a result of today’s court decision, now this matter goes back to Sullivan’s closed door and biased proceedings.
In addition to Ryan and Stephanie Fattman, the plaintiffs in the case against the Office of Campaign and Political Finance were their two campaign committees; the Sutton Republican Town Committee; the town committee’s chairman, Anthony Fattman; and two other members of the town committee – Donald Fattman, the senator’s father, and Robert Kneeland.