Trahan changes tune on campaign cash

Congresswoman Lori Trahan wouldn’t look as bad right now if she had accurately explained the source of a last minute campaign-cash infusion soon after she was first asked about it.

From the time the Boston Globe’s Andrea Estes first started poking around about it earlier this year, there was strong suggestion that her husband, businessman David Trahan, might have helped bankroll a late-game ad blitz. On Wednesday, Trahan essentially conceded as much, issuing a nearly five-page statement that said she and her husband made a deal when they married in 2007 that all of “the income that each of us earned would be our marital property, and each of us would have an equal right to manage and spend it.” She added: “We actually wrote it down.”

Therefore, according to Trahan’s reasoning, when her husband shifted $300,000 from his income into their joint account in the months before the Democratic primary, it was already her money and available for use in a hard-fought contest. 

As Trahan pointed out in a letter to her supporters, she could have structured things differently by asking her husband to cover household expenses, while she drew on lines of credit staked in their home equity and stockpiled cash from her former consulting business earnings, which totaled $635,000 in 2017 and 2018.

But compare Trahan’s “Setting the Record Straight” confessional to her earlier attempts to rebut the idea that her husband played a key role in the campaign’s financing. In the first Globe story, spokeswoman Gretchen Grosky said it was Trahan’s “professional success that allowed her to support her own campaign.”

In an interview with NBC Boston’s Alison King in April, Trahan suggested sexist ideas about women’s earning power were behind the allegations that she might have violated campaign finance laws, and she categorically denied that her husband had helped her beyond the $2,700 contribution allowed by law.

“Yeah. Look, the suggestion that I personally did not have the funds available is completely inaccurate,” Trahan said. “This notion that a woman can’t come from a public school system in the city of Lowell and start her own business and have a successful career is exactly what needs to be debunked in this country.”

As Trahan acknowledged Wednesday, the couple moved $305,000 in income earned by her husband into the joint account from which she loaned her campaign $300,000. Trahan also used a home equity credit line to loan her campaign $71,000. Trahan says she didn’t think much about exactly where the money was coming from during the campaign. She said she now knows “the way I contributed those funds constitute a gray area in campaign finance law,” but is confident she did not violate the law, citing precedents set by Jane Fonda and Bob Dole. (Her legal tab for this campaign mess tops $186,000.)

There’s one lasting impact from all the questions surrounding how Trahan financed her campaign. Since the story published in March, the Globe reported that Trahan has paid or owed a total of more than $186,000 to the firm Perkins Coie, which is helping her manage financial disclosures. 

Those loans funded an ad blitz that may have helped Trahan eke out a 145-vote victory over her closest rival, Dan Koh, who had left his job as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s chief of staff to move to the district and run for Congress.

Koh held his tongue when the Globe first raised questions in March, but since then Koh has launched a series of broadsides against the congresswoman and mulled taking another shot at the seat next year. In October, Koh acknowledged polling the district, and issued a public challenge to Trahan. If she provided the public with bank statements and her 2018 client list, and if those prove she “did nothing wrong,” then he would not run against her. 

Koh hasn’t said what he will do, but he issued a statement saying “it is clear today that our member of Congress broke those laws during her campaign and then tried to hide it,” according to Stephanie Murray of Politico.

Most political analysts haven’t been kind to Koh, and the Lowell Sun’s Peter Lucas predicted recently that Koh won’t run next year. Meanwhile, Trahan has won endorsements from Massachusetts political stars Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

John Cluverius, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, told the Sun that the campaign finance issue isn’t likely to motivate voters.

“You can’t put ‘Lori Trahan treated a joint checking account like an individual checking account, vote her out’ on a bumper sticker,” he said.



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