Was the Sutton GOP Town Committee just a conduit?

Republican Stephanie Fattman seemed poised to easily win reelection last year as register of probate in Worcester County. She had a pile of campaign cash, the name recognition of an incumbent, and an opponent who was dealing with health problems and a novice at politics. 

But Fattman wasn’t leaving anything to chance. She outspent her Democratic opponent John Dolan III by more than $121,000. A super PAC affiliated with Gov. Charlie Baker spent an additional $79,138 on her behalf. And her hometown Sutton Republican Town Committee pumped more than $31,000 into her campaign in the form of canvassing help, telephone calls, and signage. She ended up winning by eight points, 54-46. 

Now her campaign strategy is coming under scrutiny, as the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigates whether Stephanie Fattman and her power couple partner – Sen. Ryan Fattman – engaged in an end-run around campaign finance laws using the Sutton Republican Town Committee. 

The dispute broke into public view when Ryan Fattman and his wife filed suit against Michael Sullivan, the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, accusing him of bias. “I will not let a biased director overreach his authority,” Ryan Fattman said in a statement. “I will not allow him to make false claims and accusations behind closed doors. And I will not be bullied in a matter that can have serious consequences.” 

Sullivan insisted he was merely complying with laws regulating the secrecy of investigations by his office, and a judge agreed with him, refusing to grant any leeway to the Fattmans. 

No one is publicly saying what the investigation is about, but it appears to focus on whether Ryan Fattman violated regulations that prohibit contributions greater than $100 to another campaign committee, in this case his wife’s. The senator donated $25,000 to the Sutton Republican Town Committee on August 17, 2020, and the town committee doled out $31,000 over the next few months to Stephanie Fattman’s reelection campaign. 

Both contributions, viewed separately, were legal. The question is whether the Sutton Republican Town Committee was merely acting as a conduit, or pass-through, for the Fattman-to-Fattman contribution. The Sutton Republican Town Committee is headed by Sen. Fattman’s brother and the senator himself is the secretary. Five Fattmans in all sit on the 12-person committee.

According to state campaign finance regulations, “a person may not make a contribution to a political committee on the condition or with the agreement or understanding that the funds or a substantial portion of the funds contributed must subsequently be contributed by that committee to any other committee.”

Now both sides in this increasingly messy political fight are waging war through proxies. Paul Craney of the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance wrote an op-ed saying the matter should be settled with a public resolution letter and not referred to Attorney General Maura Healey for criminal prosecution. Six former chairs of the state Republican Party also weighed in, siding with the Fattmans and suggesting the Massachusetts Democratic Party has followed the same broad rules. 

But Gus Bickford, the chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said in a telephone interview that the Fattmans appear to have violated one of the central tenets of campaign finance law. “This quite clearly is a pass-through,” he said. “It’s just a way to circumvent the law.” 

And Peter Sturges, who used to work with Sullivan as legal counsel at the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said in an op-ed that Sullivan is just doing his job, investigating whether Sen. Fattman made a “disguised contribution” to his wife. “In my opinion, the resolution of a disguised contribution of this magnitude with a public resolution letter, as Craney suggests, would be a dereliction of the director’s duty,” he said.

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Acting Boston Mayor Janey, who has looked very much like a candidate for a full term since taking the reins from Marty Walsh two weeks ago, made it official on Tuesday morning, announcing that she will vie to be elected to the seat in the fall election. Read more

The Department of Revenue collected more than $3 billion from Massachusetts residents, workers, and businesses last month, once again shattering the Baker administration’s expectations and putting the state’s coffers more than $1.5 billion ahead of where they were at the same time last year. Read more. The March numbers were part of a trend, as state policymakers badly missed on their tax revenue forecasts. Read more.

Could a dispute over the payout odds for blackjack actually rise to become a case before the Supreme Judicial Court? You bet. In an unusual case, the state’s highest court will consider whether the state’s two casinos – Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield – were legally allowed to offer less favorable odds than is typical in their blackjack games. Read more.

Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield is leading a committee charged with prioritizing legislation for a post-COVID world. Read more.

Opinion

Is Michael Sullivan, the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, doing his job properly by investigating the campaign finance tactics of Sen. Ryan Fattman and his wife Stephanie Fattman, the register of probate in Worcester County? Six former chairs of the Mass. Republican Party raise concerns, but a former legal counsel at the agency defends Sullivan, saying the Fattman case is no gray area of the law. Read more here and here.

Over 33 percent of children in the state’s child welfare system are Hispanic even though they comprise just 19 percent of children. Just over 13 percent of children in the child welfare system are black even though they make up just 9 percent of the children in the state. Shaheer Mustafa of Hopewell says race-blind decision-making could reduce racial disparities in the child welfare system. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Case workers at the state Department of Children and Families are only seeing half the children under their supervision in in-person monthly visits because of the pandemic, a figure that stands out as particularly troubling in the wake of the death of 14-year-old David Almond while under DCF oversight. (Boston Globe)

The Baker administration wants the Legislature to quickly pass a $400 million bond bill for a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in order to qualify for federal matching funds, but lawmakers say they’re concerned about whether the needs of other veterans are also getting attention. (Boston Herald

Spencer Republican Rep. Peter Durant says a bill that is gaining attention in the Legislature making it easier to prosecute hate crimes is an assault on free speech. (Boston University Statehouse Program)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Joe Battenfeld says it’s time for Kim Janey to make a call on embattled Boston police commissioner Dennis White — and to release all internal affairs reports in a sign of true transparency while she’s at it. (Boston Herald)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A Dorchester vaccine clinic run by Boston Medical Center briefly opened its doors to any area resident 18 and older before getting overrun with people lining up for shots. BMC pulled the plug on open-door inoculations, saying there was “an error made in the clinic’s pre-registration process.” (Boston Herald)

A South Shore Health worker in Weymouth spots a shipment of counterfeit N95 face masks. (Associated Press)

An Amherst native writes a script to help his parents find a vaccine appointment in Western Massachusetts. He then used it to create a Twitter feed that aggregates available appointments in the region to help other Western Mass residents. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Veterans who get disability or pension payments and do not typically file tax returns may have to wait until mid-April to get their federal stimulus checks. (MassLive)

In a striking role reversal that underscores the change in the party’s base, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell whacked corporate America for taking stands against Georgia’s new voting law restrictions and embracing other “radical social agendas” that position them as a “woke parallel government.” (Washington Post

ELECTIONS

Six candidates for city council in increasingly left-leaning Somerville have the backing of Democratic Socialists of America. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Fall River area restaurants are looking to hire as they reopen, but they are finding that with high unemployment benefits, some workers are reluctant to return to low-wage jobs. (The Herald News)

Business confidence in the Boston area economy is back to pre-pandemic levels, according to a new survey by Associated Industries of Massachusetts. (Boston Globe

EDUCATION

Athol Royalston Regional School District had to cancel school Monday after 100 teachers and staff got their second COVID-19 shot over the weekend, and many of them called out sick due to side effects. (MassLive)

Bristol Community College’s 2021 valedictorian spent time in and out of homeless shelters while growing up and is currently in recovery from drug addiction. (Herald News

ARTS/CULTURE

A New Bedford homeowner finds religious murals while removing wallpaper in her new home, and experts are trying to figure out who painted them and why. (Standard-Times)

TRANSPORTATION

Massachusetts residents will not be able to get their car inspected until at least Wednesday after a malware attack on Shrewsbury-based company Applus Technologies. (Telegram & Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Haverhill is hiring mental health counselors to accompany the police on calls involving people with mental illness. (Eagle-Tribune)

Two Worcester police officers – one current, one former – offer conflicting views about the extent of racism in the Worcester Police Department at a public health hearing. (Telegram & Gazette)

MEDIA

Report for America finds under-resourced communities donate as much for news coverage as wealthier communities. (Poynter)