Sullivan refers Fattmans, Lyons to AG

Alleges violations of state campaign finance laws

THE STATE’S CHIEF campaign finance regulator on Thursday referred evidence to Attorney General Maura Healey that he believes indicates Sen. Ryan Fattman, Worcester County Register of Probate Stephanie Fattman, Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons, and others may have violated campaign finance laws.

A series of eight referral letters to Healey did not spell out the specific allegations of wrongdoing, but they appeared to broaden the scope of the investigation beyond the Fattmans. An aide to Healey said the attorney general would review the letters and accompanying evidence and determine if criminal charges should be filed.

Sullivan’s referrals to Healey were first reported by the Boston Globe, which apparently received copies of the referral letters. The letters were not published on the website of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance; a spokesman said referral letters are not secret but are not publicized. “If asked, we will provide the referral letter, but we don’t release them unsolicited,” the spokesman said.

The Fattmans brought the existence of the investigation to light when they went to court and accused Michael Sullivan, the direct of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, of bias against them.  The Fattmans also asked the judge to bar Sullivan from referring the case to Healey, but she refused. Sullivan is stepping down at the end of this week after 27 years in the position and being replaced by William Campbell, a former city clerk in Woburn who is a Republican.

The court filings and public comments by Sen. Fattman suggested Sullivan was looking at a $25,000 donation that Fattman made to the Sutton Republican Town Committee, which in turn made more than $30,000 of in-kind contributions to his wife’s reelection campaign. Each of the transactions was legal treated individually, but Sullivan reportedly was trying to determine whether Fattman was using the Republican town committee as a conduit to sidestep the $100 limit on campaign-to-campaign contributions.

The letter to Healey about Sen. Fattman cited a series of regulations dealing with the transparency of contributions — making sure that the person donating money is the actual source of the funds. “This regulation further states that a person may not make a contribution to a political committee on the condition or with the agreement or the understanding that the funds or a substantial portion of the funds contributed would subsequently be contributed by that committee to any other committee,” the referral letter said,

Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons. (Photo by State House News)

The Sutton Republican Town Committee is chaired by Fattman’s brother, Anthony, and the senator serves as secretary. His parents and wife also serve on the 12-member committee. Fattman’s brother, wife, and father had their own referral letters, as did  Robert Kneeland, the treasurer of the Sutton Town Republican Committee.

Sen. Fattman also received a referral letter as the treasurer of his wife’s campaign.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The Massachusetts Republican Party had not been implicated previously, but Lyons,  the Republican State Committee, and Brent Anderson, the party’s former treasurer, were all mentioned in the letters. The letters indicated they participated in a hearing with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on the allegations on February 25, while a hearing related to the Fattmans was held on March 8,

The Fattman case has received significant public attention. Six former chairs of the state Republican Party questioned Sullivan’s actions and Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said the issue should be dealt with without a referral to Healey. He subsequently accused Sullivan of rewriting campaign finance rules after the fact and said many Democrats, including Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, have made donations that should prompt similar investigations.