Massachusetts’ Top Court to Rule On Union Campaign Donation Loophole

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BOSTON — A right-leaning fiscal watchdog that has spent the last several years trying to overturn Massachusetts’ ban on campaign donations from business owners announced Thursday that its case will be decided by the state’s top court.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a nonprofit outfit that has made waves on Beacon Hill since its founding in 2009 with its legislative scorecards — direct mailers sent to constituents living in specific districts that track lawmakers’ spending votes — began challenging the state’s union donation loophole in court in 2015.

State campaign finance law allows labor groups, even those based out of state, to flood Massachusetts political campaigns with donations of up to $15,000. In-state businesses, however, are barred from paying anything to prop up candidates. Donations from individuals, meanwhile, are capped at $1,000.

Last April, Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson ruled in favor of unions and their allies in the Democratic Party when he determined that the law does not unconstitutionally discriminate against a business’s right to equal protection or free speech.

The original lawsuit was filed by business owners Mike Kane of Ashland and Rick Green of Pepperell. Green is the founder of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and currently serves as its board chairman.

As for the news that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will now rule on the case, the organization announced in a prepared statement that the development “was expected” but “is great news nonetheless.”

The nonprofit chose to take the state to court following the 2013 Boston mayoral election. Then-state Representative Marty Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat, amassed an unprecedented haul of campaign donations from unions based in state and unions based as far away as Wisconsin and Minnesota to help him with the election and become mayor of Boston.

Walsh, the longtime former president of Laborers Local 223,  raked in more than $600,000 in union donations in 2013.

“Massachusetts is the most lopsided state in the country for how unions and employers are treated in state campaign finance law,” the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said in a recent written statement, released shortly after it filed a complaint with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance concerning money being raised in the race to succeed former state senator James Timilty (D-Walpole), who resigned in April to become treasurer of Norfolk County. “Our hope is that [the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance] will administratively close the loophole, which would drop the lawsuit, save taxpayer money, and prevent another tainted election.”

According to the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, the Democratic candidate in the race to succeed Timilty — Paul Feeney of Foxborough — “became the first local candidate since Marty Walsh in 2013 to use the union loophole to fund his campaign.”

Feeney is running against Attleboro Republican Jacob Ventura and Medfield independent Joe Shirtsleeve, a former WBZ-TV Channel 4 anchor and reporter.

Feeney, a former selectman, currently serves as the legislative director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2222. 

Feeney recently received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, according to a State House News Service report, and will now begin receiving campaign donations from the abortion provider’s advocacy fund.

The election is scheduled for Tuesday, October 17.