Ball’s in AG Healey’s Court: Will She Take on Democrat-Leaning Law Firm for ‘Straw’ Political Donations?

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BOSTON — A Beacon Hill public finance watchdog has pounced on a recent report indicating that state campaign finance officials plan to direct Attorney General Maura Healey to consider making a criminal case out of a prominent Hub law firm’s pattern of reimbursing its lawyers and spouses for donations made to both Massachusetts and national Democrats.

The critical comments made Friday by Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance executive director Paul Craney followed a Boston Globe report confirming that the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance fired off a letter last month to the Thornton Law Firm outlining evidence that purportedly proves that the firm illegally reimbursed its attorneys and associated family members up to $175,000 for a series of campaign contributions.

News of the scheme broke in October. Last summer, Thornton Law managing partner Garrett Bradley, a Democratic state representative from Hingham at the time, abruptly resigned from office but did not provide a concrete reason for stepping down. Craney has frequently noted that it was Bradley who sponsored a bill aimed at forcing the disclosure of donors who give money to so-called “electioneering” organizations such as Mass Fiscal.

Coincidentally, Bradley was tapped by House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) to serve as chairman of a joint ethics-related committee tasked with monitoring election laws.

“The Bradley connection gets my goat,” Craney said Friday in a prepared statement. “Here’s a guy who was entrusted by Speaker Robert DeLeo to build the state’s campaign finance laws, and it turns out he’s the fox in the henhouse.”

Bradley resigned on July 31, 2016, shortly after his electioneering disclosure bill cleared both chambers in the State House.

Immediately after news of Thornton Law’s scheme broke in October, Craney wrote to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to demand a full investigation. Now, it appears, OCPF has completed part of its investigation and has asked Healey to do the same.

Should Healey initiate efforts to file criminal charges against Bradley and Thornton Law, it would mark a shift in her office’s razor-sharp focus on all things related to Republican President Donald Trump.

Craney has also questioned whether Healey, a Democrat, will muster the same amount of zeal taking on a fellow Democrat like Bradley whose law firm allegedly engaged in a straw donor scheme to benefit other Democrats as she has taking on Republicans like Trump:

According to the Globe, OCPF director Michael Sullivan said in his letter to Thornton Law that the firm was caught red-handed breaking state campaign finance laws that “prohibit individuals from making a campaign contribution in any name other than his own and except his own.”

Thornton Law has maintained its innocence and has insisted the reimbursement system was legal. Thornton Law declined to comment on the recent recommendation by the state campaign finance agency for the state Attorney General to pursue criminal charges.

Healey declined to comment on a potential referral of the case to her office, the Globe reported.