MA Fiscal sues to block ad disclosures
Says disclosing 5 top donors violates free speech rights
THE CONSERVATIVE MASSACHUSETTS FISCAL ALLIANCE is suing to block enforcement of a state law requiring the organization to attach a list of its top five donors and a statement of responsibility from its top official to any ads or print materials that mention a politician and are sent to voters within 90 days prior to an election.
In a lawsuit filed in federal district court, the alliance said a 2016 state law requiring the disclosures violates the organization’s First Amendment free speech rights and would prompt the cancellation of television ads and mailings it had planned on putting before voters this fall across the state. The lawsuit names as defendants Attorney General Maura Healey, Suffolk County District Attorney John Pappas, and Michael Sullivan, the director of the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
The Mass Fiscal Alliance is organized as a 501(c)(4), a non-profit designation that allows the group to keep the identity of its donors secret as long as it does not engage in overt political campaigns. Democratic lawmakers and the state Democratic Party have filed complaints with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance accusing the alliance of circumventing the law.
“MassFiscal distributes what it describes as ‘educational fliers,’ which purport to be informational pamphlets that reveal legislators’ voting history,” said a complaint filed against the alliance by Democratic lawmakers and the Massachusetts Democratic Party. “In reality, these fliers skew the facts surrounding legislation and selectively highlight issues MassFiscal perceives to be damaging to the Democratic Party.”
The lawsuit contains the script for an ad that the group wants to run on television, radio, social media, and in print. It features two women walking down a street talking about “Prop. 80,” which is described as an 80 percent tax increase approved by the Legislature that was later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Judicial Court. The women talk about what they can do about a Legislature that approved a 40 percent pay hike and then approved the 80 percent tax increase.
A narrator urges listeners to visit the Fiscal Alliance’s website to see if Sen. Marc Pacheo of Taunton voted for the pay hike and the tax increase. “Contact Senator Pacheco’s office and demand no more taxes and no more pay raises,” the ad copy says.Paul Craney, the executive director of the alliance, said Prop. 80 is a reference to the millionaire tax, which would have imposed a 4 percent surcharge on income over $1 million. Craney said the 80 percent tax hike is a reference to a 4 percent surcharge on top of the 5 percent state income tax.
Pacheco, a Democrat, is running for reelection in November, although Craney noted that the senator is facing no opponent. Pacheco could not be reached for comment.