The Codcast: The campaign money man

Michael Sullivan follows the money.

Sullivan is the director of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which monitors and publicizes how candidates for office in Massachusetts raise and spend their campaign cash. He makes sure politicians follow the rules, and in some cases he has to set the rules.

He recently proposed a new rule covering expenditures by unions on behalf of political candidates. Labor unions are currently allowed to give no more than $15,000, or 10 percent of their gross income, to a political candidate before having to register as a political committee and face tighter regulation. Sullivan’s proposal would impose a $1,000 limit on union contributions to political candidates, a $500 limit on contributions to political action committees, and a $5,000 limit on donations to a political party’s committee.

The issue came to the fore after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a ban on corporate donations to candidates. That case was brought by two men who serve on the board of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which has repeatedly argued that it was unfair that unions could give large amounts of money to candidates for office when companies could not. After the decision came down, the advocacy group Common Cause urged Sullivan’s office to review the existing rules on union donations, which led to the proposed rule.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance is now trying to entice the US Supreme Court to weigh in on the state’s ban on corporate political donations even though the organization’s chief public argument – that unions are benefiting from a loophole in the law – appears to be closing. Sullivan said the case filed with the US Supreme Court is focused on giving corporations the right to donate to state political candidates and has nothing to do with the so-called union loophole issue. “There’s a conflation of the two issues and in the public’s mind that’s as good as gold for people pushing that agenda,” he said on CommonWealth’s Codcast.

He also said the “union loophole” hasn’t been that big of a loophole. “There’s been a race here or there [Marty Walsh received big union donations in his initial run for mayor of Boston], but not to the extent it’s made out to be, quite frankly. If you look in 2017 and 2018, there were very few $15,000 checks floating around,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also talked about the power of money in Massachusetts politics. “Our studies show people who raise the most money win the races 90-something percent of the time,” he said.

According to the website of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Sen. Mark Montigny of New Bedford would appear to be a prime example of the power of money. Montigny had more than $890,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2018, which is actually down a bit. (At the end of 2009, he had more than $1.2 million in the account.) Since 2002, Montigny has run unopposed during each election except for once in a Democratic primary (2006) and once in a general election (2008). He won both times easily.

A handful of states have tried to limit this power of incumbency by restricting how much money a candidate can roll over from one campaign to the next. Sullivan steered clear of making any policy recommendations to the Legislature, but he acknowledged: “I don’t know how that would fly here.”

He also raised an interesting issue about how campaign receipts and expenditures are reported in Massachusetts. He noted statewide candidates have to maintain depository accounts, where all funds coming into and out of the campaign are reported by the bank holding the candidate’s money. He said depository accounts are accurate and precise, and he would like to see their use extended to legislative candidates, who are currently allowed to handle the accounting on their own.



A student doing research discovered Massachusetts has a statute that bars most immigrants from owning self-defense spray, and now he’s trying to eliminate the law. (CommonWealth)

Roxana Rivera and Natalicia Tracy say Gov. Charlie Baker should make immigrant licenses part of his road-safety agenda. (CommonWealth)


Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer, is very optimistic about the city’s future. (MassLive)

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s annual election Sunday saw three tribal council seats changeover, including the return of Aaron Tobey Jr., a critic of chairman Cedric Cromwell. (Cape Cod Times)


Negotiations on a border security plan to avert another government shutdown fell apart yesterday, with a Friday deadline looming. (Washington Post)

A Herald editorial decries House Democrats’ plans to seek President Trump’s tax returns.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren officially launched her candidacy for president on Saturday in front of a former Lawrence textile mill whose women-led workers’ strike of 1912 she invoked in her call to even the economic playing field. (CommonWealth) Campaigning yesterday in Iowa, she suggested President Trump might not even finish his first term and could instead land in prison. (Boston Globe) Joe Battenfeld thinks it was a mistake for Rep. Joe Kennedy to throw in with Warren and forfeit the chance to see how the field shapes up. (Boston Herald)

Do Democrats want a fighter or a healer, asks a New York Times story that puts forward Warren as exemplar of the former and Sen. Cory Booker the latter.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s joins the crowded Democratic presidential race. (New York Times) Nate Silver measures the various angles of a Klobuchar candidacy and says she shouldn’t be discounted. (FiveThirtyEight)

New Hampshire politicos are worried that their first-in-the-nation primary is losing its edge. (Boston Globe)


Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George and Deborah Hughes of Brookview House in Dorchester say family homelessness in Massachusetts is staggering. (CommonWealth)

A housing boom in Brockton is leaving low-income residents displaced, and also bucking the trends of gentrification. (Brockton Enterprise)


Lots of school districts would see only a modest increase in state aid under Gov. Charlie Baker’s funding plan, but the biggest benefits going to a handful of communities. (Boston Globe)

After a survey found a lack of confidence in his leadership, Middlesex Community College President James Mabry visited the Lowell Sun and said there is a “communications gap that we need to solve” at the college.


A Globe editorial sounds an alarm over the growing rate of Massachusetts families claiming exemption on religious grounds from the state’s mandatory vaccine laws for children.

Insulin prices have been steadily rising. (Boston Herald)

The arrival of 200,0000 square feet of outpatient medical offices in Quincy may give some residents who miss the old Quincy Medical Center and shuttered emergency room some hope. (Patriot Ledger)


Julia Dixon, who resigned from  the North Adams Public Arts Commission, lays out what’s going on and what’s at stake in the struggle over public art in the western Massachusetts community. (CommonWealth)

After more than two centuries in business, Andover Bookstore is the oldest independent bookstore in the country now that the much older Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is under the management of Barnes & Noble. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra brought its Grammy total to 10, taking home awards for its recordings of Dmitri Shostakovich‘s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 11. (WBUR News)


Jim Aloisi says transportation equity demands that MBTA fare increases should be tied to comparable boosts in the gas tax and levies on ride-sharing firms like Uber and Lyft. (Boston Globe)

Drivers on the North Shore for the MBTA’s RIDE service are threatening to go on strike tomorrow. (Boston Herald)

New Orange Line cars are tested on the subway system — without riders for now. (MassLive)

Springfield is pushing for a rail connection to Boston and now North Adams is pursuing one as well. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)


Eversource is going big on wind and solar projects. (Boston Globe) The deal was first announced on Friday. (CommonWealth)

A proposed city ordinance would add protections for Boston’s limited wetlands areas. (Boston Globe)

WGBH News takes a look inside the soon-to-be-shuttered Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, including a visit to the odorless, quietly humming reactor building where uranium rods heat water into steam to power turbines.


MassLive takes stock of the MGM Springfield casino and its growing competition.

Alcohol companies are investing in pot you can pour. (Bloomberg)


A Globe editorial defends the Supreme Judicial Court ruling that upheld the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Michelle Carter and rips the ACLU of Massachusetts for defending her actions on free speech grounds.