Tran’s campaign donates $5,000 to legal defense fund

Donation comes 3 days after election loss to Cronin

THREE DAYS AFTER losing his bid for reelection, Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg transferred $5,000 from his campaign account to a separate legal defense fund account.

Tran’s legal defense fund raised $23,415 between the time it was organized on April 7 and the end of July, but then went dormant until November, according to campaign finance records. Those records show the Republican senator’s campaign also donated $2,500 to the legal defense fund on July 18.

Tran, in a text message, said he donated $5,000 to his senatorial campaign account on July 28 and decided to shift that money to the defense fund on November 6. He declined to say whether the money was to meet some current legal need or to pay off an older debt.

Legal defense funds are a fairly obscure offshoot of campaign finance law. They are part of a family of specialized funds dedicated for specific uses, including inaugurals and election recounts. Under state law, unlimited amounts of money can be raised for these special uses. Donors must be disclosed, but expenditures don’t have to be documented.

What Tran’s defense fund is for is unclear. Late in March, responding to a report from the Senate Ethics Committee, the Senate stripped Tran of his leadership position and barred him from his State House office for using his legislative staff to do campaign work.

The Senate Ethics Committee report also referred questions about an amendment he filed on behalf of a Leominster developer who had donated to Tran’s campaign to the State
Ethics Commission and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Neither office has taken any action against Tran.

There have also been reports that Tran has been caught up in a criminal investigation involving the Fitchburg Police and the state attorney general’s office. The murky dispute involves Tran, an elderly Fitchburg woman, and members of her family and relates to guns belonging to the woman’s late husband.

At a debate on October 16 between Tran and his Democratic rival John Cronin, Cronin pressed the senator for details on the criminal investigation. Tran said he was not the subject of a criminal investigation, “as far as I know.”

Tran’s ethical and legal issues were a prime focus of the campaign, which Cronin won by a narrow 51-49 margin.

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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.

At the end of October, just three days before the election, Tran still had $35,774 in his campaign account. Campaign finance information for November came out on Thursday showing he raised $5,249 and spent $23,510 during that month, most of the expenditures coming in the few days before the November 3 election.

The one exception was the $5,000 donation to his legal defense fund on November 6. Tran ended November with a balance in his campaign account of $17,513.