Baker leads Mass. elected officials cashing in on new limit

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BOSTON — A 2014 change in the state’s campaign finance law has delivered a cash windfall for top elected officials in Massachusetts, allowing them to rake in big money donations and quickly rebuild their election coffers.

An Associated Press review of campaign finance records found the change — which doubled the maximum annual allowable donation from $500 to $1,000 — has helped flood candidates campaign accounts with money.

Gov. Charlie Baker was easily the biggest beneficiary.

More than 45 percent of all the cash the Republican raised in 2015 came in the form of single $1,000 donations.

According to the AP’s review, 1,267 individuals kicked in $1,000 checks to Baker, a haul of more than $1.2 million. Baker’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, pulled in $580,000 in $1,000 donations.

The top-dollar donations helped fuel Baker’s total receipts for the year. At nearly $2.8 million it was far more than any of his successors raised during their freshman years. In comparison, former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick collected about $892,000 during his first year; former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney reported more than $1.5 million.

David Drummond, the finance director for Baker’s campaign committee, said donors are responding to his pragmatic approach to governing.

“Since taking office, Gov. Baker has pursued a reform-oriented, common-sense approach, which has resonated across the commonwealth,” Drummond said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the strong support.”

Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey also benefited.

Healey raised more than $407,000 in her first year. That’s nearly twice the $237,000 that Healey’s successor, former Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, raised during her first year.

More than 34 percent of Healey’s total came from just 140 individual donations of $1,000 each.

The AP review only looked at single $1,000 donations — not multiple donations from an individual that might have totaled $1,000.

Healey said it’s important for candidates and elected officials to have fundraising guidelines to avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest.

“When it comes to things like fundraising, I think it is incredibly important that we all act in ways that are appropriate and consistent with the law,” Healey said in a recent AP interview.

The hike in the maximum contribution was included in a larger campaign overhaul bill signed into law by Patrick.

The law tightens reporting requirements for independent political expenditures, including those made by political action committees known as super PACs. To help get the bill through the Legislature, the measure doubled the maximum donation in a calendar year to $1,000.

The $500 limit had been in place for 20 years.

Common Cause Massachusetts Executive Director Pam Wilmot supported the 2014 bill although she opposed the increase in the donation limit, which she said is bad for democracy.

“So few Massachusetts residents can afford $50 contributions, let alone $1,000 contributions to political candidates,” she said. “We think there is too much money in politics, not too little.”

Other Democratic officeholders raked in top dollar donations last year.

State Secretary William Galvin raised nearly $154,000, about a third in $1,000 donations. State Treasurer Deb Goldberg collected about $274,000, with $97,000 coming from single $1,000 donations. State Auditor Suzanne Bump raised $81,288, but had just nine $1,000 donations.

The state’s two most powerful Democratic lawmakers — House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg — also benefited.

Of the $545,000 DeLeo received in 2015, about 14 percent — $75,000 — came in single $1,000 donations. Rosenberg raised nearly $432,000 last year with 23 percent — or $101,000 — coming from $1,000 donations.

Across all candidates and all elections last year, there were more than 5,700 individual donations of $1,000 — a total of more than $5.7 million.

Those top money donors held a range of jobs including truck driver, venture capitalist, yoga instructor, auto dealer, lobsterman, and architect.

Some professions popped up more frequently than others.

Those identifying themselves as attorneys or lawyers gave about $430,000 in $1,000 donations while corporate leaders who listed their professions as CEO, president or chairman gave at least $730,000 in $1,000 checks.

And it wasn’t just Massachusetts residents who felt the urge to “max out.”

There were 84 New York residents, 73 Connecticut residents and 56 individuals from Rhode Island who sent single $1,000 donations to Bay State politicians.

Written by Steve LeBlanc