Massachusetts Democratic Party Complaint Seeks To Force MassFiscal Donor Disclosure

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By Michael P. Norton

BOSTON — Lawmakers who say they’ve been targeted recently in their districts by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance plan to call on state regulators Tuesday to force the non-profit group to register as a political committee and disclose its donors.

A complaint, obtained by the News Service and signed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Rep. Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster), cites an alliance mailer sent to Leominster voters that was critical of Higgins. Letters were also sent to selectmen and city councilors in Eldridge’s district knocking his support for the Safe Communities Act and urging local officials to take positions against the bill, which is an immigration law enforcement bill pending on Beacon Hill.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party joined the lawmakers in filing the complaint with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which asks the independent agency to conduct an investigation and also to fine MassFiscal for failing to disclose the top five donors behind the flier campaign.

The complaint alleges MassFiscal is improperly concealing its donors while “distributing communications for the purpose of influencing Massachusetts elections.”

RELATED: Nonprofit fiscal watchdog fears Massachusetts will act to make donor ID’s public

MassFiscal is organized as a 501(c)(4), a non-profit designation that has reportedly grown in popularity among groups that favor keeping donors private. The group previously shielded the identity of its donors by never explicitly advocating for the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

Following passage of 2016 law that mandated greater reporting, the group starting using mail to direct voters online to its legislative scorecard, characterizing the voter contact as educational and not meant to influence an election.

The group’s leaders also said it would avoid electioneering communications, which are defined by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance as those that refer to a “clearly identifiable” candidate and are distributed within 90 days of an election in which that candidate is running.

Paul Craney, of the Mass Fiscal Alliance, has said that the disclosure of the group’s donors could chill fundraising efforts.

According to the complaint, MassFiscal has also delivered fliers in 29 House districts and nine Senate districts that were critical of lawmakers who approved legislation giving themselves and their colleagues steep raises at the outset of the 2017-2018 session.

“MassFiscal specifically aimed at only Democratic State Representatives and Senators up for re-election with a targeted leaflet campaign designed to influence voters,” the complaint says, alleging a “persistent concerted campaign” against Democrats.

In their complaint, Eldridge and Higgins note alliance materials urge voters to call State House offices and lobby lawmakers to change their positions.

“MassFiscal distributes what it describes as ‘educational fliers,’ which purport to be informational pamphlets that reveal legislators’ voting history,” the complaint says. “In reality, these fliers skew the facts surrounding legislation and selectively highight issues MassFiscal perceives to be damaging to the Democratic Party.”

The lawmakers, noting the recent MassFiscal communications were timed to coincide with special legislative elections, say “there is no other reasonable interpretation of these fliers and letter other than an appeal to vote against Democratic candidates.”

MassFiscal last week testified against proposed OCPF rules governing when the names and addresses of donors to 501(c)(4) and other tax-exempt entities must be publicly disclosed, alleging the agency was proposing to “give itself broad discretion to require donor disclosure.”

The group also supports a lawsuit targeting what it calls the “union loophole” that enables unions to give at amounts beyond the individual limit of $1,000.

Read the press release:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Emily Fitzmaurice, Massachusetts Democratic Party, 617-939-0808

State Legislators, Mass Democratic Party File OCPF Complaint Against Mass Fiscal Alliance

Group Accused of Illegally Concealing Donors, Targeting Democrats, and Violating State Election Law

BOSTON – State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and State Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster) along with the Massachusetts Democratic Party today are filing a formal complaint against the secretive political group Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF), seeking an investigation into violations of state election law.

“It is clear that MassFiscal’s sole purpose is to conceal the identity of individuals and corporations who seek to influence our elections — every aspect of their operation is designed to hide the source of their money,” said Senator Eldridge. “State law permits political groups to communicate with voters, but they are required to disclose their donors. We are seeking the transparency that Massachusetts law is designed to provide, and that our voters deserve.”

The complaint argues that the not-for-profit MassFiscal is actually a Political Committee “which raises money and expends those funds for the purpose of influencing Massachusetts elections,” and thus is required by state election law to disclose its donors. MassFiscal targets only Democratic legislators and “is clearly engaged in a persistent prolonged targeted effort to defeat Democratic House and Senate members,” according to the complaint. Recently, a mailer attacking Representative Higgins was sent to voters in Leominster on a day the voters in that community were voting in a State Senate special election in an effort to sway voters against the Democratic candidate in the race.

The latest MassFiscal mailing, which accused legislators of wanting to make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state,” prominently included a citation from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the top 50 hate groups in the country. MassFiscal also sent a letter against Senator Eldridge for his support of the Safe Communities Act to all selectmen and city councilors in the Senator’s district. As part of their systematic targeting of Democratic elected officials, MassFiscal asked the selectmen and councilors in each community to pass a resolution against Senator Eldridge and the legislation, echoing MassFiscal’s incorrect description of the bill.

“When a political group is citing an anti-immigrant hate group in an effort to influence our electoral process, it’s time for them to come clean about the source of their money,” said Representative Higgins. “I want our local public safety officials to focus their limited resources on local and state needs, not enforce federal civil immigration law. Their lies about the Safe Communities Act could harm public safety efforts in Massachusetts.”

“In 2016, conservative political donors allied with Governor Baker funneled millions of dollars through several non-profit groups to fund the Governor’s charter school ballot question,” said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford. “They lost, but the Governor’s dark money machine is back at it again, hiding political spending behind a secretive group that falsely claims to be a nonprofit. OCPF has already found two groups guilty of failing to disclose their political donations. We ask them to investigate MassFiscal and hold them to the same standard.”

MassFiscal has consistently prioritized the concealment of its donors above all. After the passage of a 2016 law that would require the disclosure of the group’s top five donors on certain campaign literature, MassFiscal stopped sending out campaign literature that was subject to the new disclosure requirement, telling the State House News Service that “disclosure of donors could chill the group’s fundraising.”

In response to a previous Massachusetts Democratic Party complaint, OCPF found in August 2016 that MassFiscal had failed to properly disclose a donor who contributed $500 to support “electioneering communications.” In a public resolution letter, OCPF ruled that the Fiscal Alliance “should therefore amend its Electioneering Communication report disclose the identity of the donor.” The Fiscal Alliance refused to do so, saying that “we protect the generous support from our loyal members.”