Mass. Fiscal social justice claims ring hollow

When it comes to questionable campaign finance issues, group should look in the mirror

BACK IN 1932 James Michael Curley arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago without a seat in the Massachusetts delegation. Curley dexterously engineered himself into becoming the chairman of the Puerto Rican delegation – “Alcalde Jaime Miguel Curleo.” With the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance’s recent claim to be a crusader for social justice, Curleo’s triumph finally has a rival for the most bizarre transformation in Massachusetts political history.

MassFiscal’s farcical declaration was made in a CommonWealth opinion piece by its spokesperson, Paul D. Craney, which set up MassFiscal as a social justice warrior battling evil “union bosses.” But MassFiscal is actually a right-wing dark money front modeled on the Koch network.

Since its inception MassFiscal has accepted millions of dollars in dark money donations – money hidden from the prying eyes of citizens – to influence political campaigns. It has skillfully employed legal stratagems to avoid disclosure, but it unquestionably has run a private political operation to bolster conservative politics.

MassFiscal is tied to other right-wing organizations. For instance, in its latest lawsuit it is represented by the Goldwater Institute of Arizona. The Center for Media and Democracy classifies Goldwater as “a right-wing advocacy group” with ties to the Koch brothers. One recent board member is Rebekah Mercer, whose billionaire family funded Donald Trump as well as Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News. Trump ally Christopher Ruddy calls Rebekah Mercer “the First Lady of the alt-right.”

I said MassFiscal has skillfully avoided disclosure requirements, and that is true, except for one instance. In Public Resolution Letter CPF 16-20, the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance directed MassFiscal to disclose a single $500 donor. MassFiscal has ignored that ruling. We shall call this “the MassFiscal precedent.”

MassFiscal’s ire has been trained on a 30-year-old allowance by OCPF the permits entities to forego forming a political committee if their expenditures are minimal and from their general treasuries – the “incidental expenditures” practice. Practically speaking the rule has mostly encompassed union spending. As Rachel Adele Dec recently showed in “Union ‘loophole’ isn’t a very big one,” the incidental expenditures practice is miniscule in the context of political spending in the state. On the other hand, political science research shows unequivocally that the spending of corporations and wealthy individuals – and not that of unions – dominates American politics. Labor is the only effective counterweight to corporate control of our democracy.

And that is really what has Mr. Craney’s knickers in a twist. Research shows that the positions of labor track the preferences of average Americans fairly well, while the wishes of the wealthy oppose them. Robust union politics also translates into more political participation and more people going to the polls. More labor means more democracy.

Progress initiated by unions is a rising tide that lifts other workers’ boats, as last week’s Boston Globe story on the Marriott hotel workers’ contract shows. Striking Marriott workers won higher pay, increased pension contributions, paid maternity leave, protections for immigrant workers, security in the face of advancing technologies, and safeguards for housekeepers against sexual assaults by problematic guests. The advances will reverberate through the industry and benefit workers across the country. Perhaps the greatest outcome was showing workers that if they stand together they can improve each other’s prospects to live in dignity. As Mei Ling, a 71-year-old housekeeper who will be able to retire next year due to the pension increase said, speaking in Cantonese through a translator, “It’s not easy to win and we won. It was a struggle every day to stay strong.”

As for Craney’s claims on social justice, the collection of Martin Luther King’s speeches on labor rights and economic justice in “All Labor Has Dignity” shows that unions have been an ally of social justice causes for many decades.

MassFiscal, on the other hand, proposed a shameful intimidation scheme to suppress the votes of Latinos in the recent election for the Third Congressional District seat – a race in which MassFiscal’s founder, Rick Green, was the Republican candidate.

Meet the Author

Maurice Cunningham

Assoc. Prof. of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston
Come to think of it, MassFiscal’s claim isn’t like Curley’s 1932 convention maneuver at all – it’s not funny, and it’s dangerous to democracy.

Maurice T. Cunningham is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. As an educator in the UMass system he is a union member.