Scott Brown says Rizzo never endorsed him

Former senator says bogus claim “typical” of unions bankrolling super PAC

FORMER US SENATOR Scott Brown, who was portrayed as a favorite of a Democratic pol in an attack ad designed to harm the candidate’s chances in a close Democratic primary, is firing back with an attack of his own, saying he plans to file a complaint with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

A labor-affiliated super PAC launched a last-minute blitz against Dan Rizzo, a Democratic candidate in a special election last week for state Senate, taking aim at the former Revere mayor with a particularly low blow just days before a partisan primary: A mailed leaflet charging that Rizzo previously endorsed a trio of high-profile Republicans.

The mailer showed Rizzo in a picture with Brown and Sen. John McCain, and in a second photo with former governor Mitt Romney.

The flier, sent by the Mass Values PAC, says an endorsement is “a statement of values” and claims that Rizzo endorsed the three Republicans “while we worked to elect strong Democrats like Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren.”

Rizzo attack mailer

The deceptive last-minute attack mailer that Rizzo says helped his opponents in the Democratic primary he narrowly lost.

Brown and Rizzo both say Rizzo never endorsed the former Republican US senator.

“The teachers unions and SEIU are notorious for that kind of thing,” Brown said of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and SEIU 1199, the two main funders of the super PAC.

The mailer clearly attempts to make a Rizzo endorsement of Brown and the other Republicans a sordid association.

“To make an untrue allegation and put a mayor in a Democratic primary in that situation – everyone knows what they’re up to,” Brown said. “I was pretty surprised. No, I wasn’t surprised actually because it’s typical of these groups.”

Rizzo finished second in last week’s seven-way Democratic primary, less than 400 votes behind winner Joseph Boncore of Winthrop.

Scott Brown, during January 2010 campaign for US Senate. Creative Commons/Flickr by Rob Weir.

“Everyone knows what they’re trying to do,” Scott Brown says of the mailer trying to link Democrat Dan Rizzo to him just before last week’s primary. Creative Commons/Flickr photo by Rob Weir.

Neither the MTA nor SEIU responded to inquiries asking whether they approved of the mailers. The two unions accounted for nearly all of the $282,000 Mass Values super PAC has collected since being formed in 2012.  No one could be reached from the super PAC itself.

The super PAC’s original 2012 filing with the state lists its aim as promoting “equal opportunity and a just society embracing dignity, respect, and fairness.”

The attack mailings seem to be a departure from that mission.

“It’s a dirty tactic that I think helped the opposition a lot,” said Rizzo, who thinks the mailers could have tipped the race.

“Unfortunately, there’s enough people that buy into that stuff to make a difference in a close election,” he said.

Rizzo said volunteers doing phone banking for him in the closing days of the race reported that people they reached were asking about mailers and whether Rizzo had backed the Republicans he’s shown with.

Rizzo said he did not endorse any of the three GOP candidates he is shown with.

He said the photographs were taken from his Facebook page. He said the photo with Brown and McCain was taken at the Bagel Bin in Revere during Brown’s failed 2012 reelection campaign against Elizabeth Warren. McCain was there to campaign for Brown.

“You’ve got two United States senators that are in town. I went down to say hello,” said Rizzo, whose wife also appears in the photograph. “There’s a big difference between taking a picture with somebody and endorsing somebody.”

“In all honesty, it was a real treat to meet John McCain. He’s a decorated veteran,” said Rizzo, also a veteran.

Rizzo Dan

“In all honesty, it was a real treat to meet John McCain,” says Rizzo. But there is “a big difference between taking a picture with somebody and endorsing somebody.”

Rizzo said he supported Warren in the Senate race.

According a Revere Journal article, four Revere city councilors announced their endorsement of Brown at the Bagel Bin event. The article said that Rizzo, then the city’s mayor, and most city councilors were neutral in the race.

“I don’t remember a big formal endorsement, but I know I supported Elizabeth Warren,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo’s campaign said last week that it was filing a complaint with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and Brown said he also plans to do so.

“I’m going to contact the OCPF as well to voice my concerns,” said Brown. He said he would report that “they used my photograph without my authorization and they made an untrue allegation and they should be fined accordingly.”

It’s not Brown’s first attempt to have a group sanctioned over what he says is an untruthful campaign claim.

In his 2010 special election race against Martha Coakley, Brown called out the state Democratic Party for what his campaign said were untrue statements in campaign literature the party put out about Brown’s stand on abortion.

“You cannot lie to the voters to try to influence an election. That’s just not allowed,” Dan Winslow, Brown’s campaign attorney said in press conference at the time. “It’s terrible, and it’s wrong, and it’s illegal.”

Winslow was referring to a 1946 statute that barred making knowingly false statements against a candidate.

Two years ago, state Rep. Brian Mannal, a Barnstable Democrat, cited the same statute in bringing criminal charges against the treasurer of a right-leaning super PAC that made what he said were false statements in fliers slamming him over legislation related to sex offenders during his 2014 reelection race.

The case wound up before the Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled last year that the statute was invalid because it conflicts with the free speech guarantees of the state Constitution.

That means the attack mailers that went after Rizzo may have been underhanded, but they weren’t illegal.

Scott Ferson, a spokesman for Rizzo’s campaign, called last week for the state Democratic Party to denounce the mailings for unfairly attacking the party loyalty of a Democratic primary candidate.  The executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Matt Fenlon, said today that the the party was not going to weigh in on the matter.

The Mass Values super PAC may nonetheless have run afoul of state campaign laws.

A set of 2014 reforms requires any expenditure by a super PAC within 10 days of an election to be posted electronically on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance website within 24 hours.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

The attack mailers showing the Rizzo and Republican officials landed in mailboxes on Saturday, April 9, three days before the election, and another attack mailer from the Mass Values super PAC arrived in mailboxes earlier in the week. A disclosure by the PAC reporting $7,473 in spending for printing and postage was not posted on the state website until the night before the April 12 election.

The state campaign finance office does not comment on potential investigations of campaign finance law violations.