MassFiscal Says Two Environmentalist Groups Are Violating Campaign Finance Law In Massachusetts

Printed from:

Are a pair of environmental groups violating Massachusetts and federal campaign finance law?

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance says so. The environmental groups so far are not commenting.

MassFiscal, a right-of-center watchdog on taxes and spending on Beacon Hill, took aim at the Environmental League of Massachusetts on Wednesday, alerting the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) as well as the federal Internal Revenue Service about what MassFiscal sees as potentially illegal campaign and super-political action committee spending — largely in favor of Democratic candidates. And on Thursday, MassFiscal alerted the state’s campaign finance agency about what it says are unreported expenditures from the Clean Water Action Vote Environment PAC.

MassFiscal says that because the Environmental League of Massachusetts is a 501(c)(3) tax-deductible, non-profit organization, it cannot spend money to help elect candidates.

MassFiscal notes that starting on August 20, 2020, Environmental League of Massachusetts began running Facebook ads, considered to be independent expenditures under campaign finance law. However, a separate organization, the Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee (known as ELM Action Fund IE PAC), reported that expenditure to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

“In this case, the Independent Expenditures are being reported to OCPF by ELM Action Fund IE PAC but being served to voters by ELM’s tax deductible public charity, a violation of state campaign finance laws and IRS rules,” MassFiscal wrote in a letter to the state campaign finance agency.

Facebook’s ad library shows that the Environmental League of Massachusetts’s Facebook page has been running ads telling people to re-elect certain candidates that the ELM Action Fund IE PACT has endorsed. That includes ads the organization started running on Friday, October 23 telling people to vote for state representative candidate Meg Kilcoyne (D-Northboro) in the Twelfth Worcester District, state Senator Susan Moran (D-Falmouth) in the Plymouth & Barnstable District, and Sally Kerans (D-Danvers) in the Thirteenth Essex District. The page spent between $300 and $399 on the Kilcoyne ad, between $200 and $299 on the Moran ad, and between $300 and $399 on the Kerans ad, according to Facebook’s ad manager. The About section on that same Facebook page lists the Environmental League of Massachusetts as a non-profit organization.

In all, the page spent $4,740 on ads about social issues, elections, or politics from October 21 to October 27 this year, according to Facebook. 

“As concerned taxpayers of Massachusetts, we believe this information warrants an examination and we hope the IRS and OCPF will compel ELM to remove their campaign political endorsements from the organization’s social media group page and cease any further Independent Expenditures served from their tax-deductible social media page. ELM has put partisan politics ahead of their program, and state and federal rules must apply to everyone equally, including ELM,” said Paul Diego Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, in a written statement.

Environmental League of Massachusetts ELM has endorsed 37 candidates:  35 Democrats and two Republicans. The Republicans are House minority leader Brad Jones of North Reading, and state Senator Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth. O’Connor, a pro-abortion Republican, has a 48 percent rating on his MassFiscal scorecard in this legislative session, the lowest of any Republican on Beacon Hill. (O’Connor’s lifetime American Conservative Union rating was 30 percent (out of a possible 100) as of 2019; Jones’s was 72 percent.)

The issue with MA Clean Water Action Vote Environment PAC is different but also involves Facebook. MassFiscal notes that state Office of Campaign and Political Finance records show the political action committee reports spending $17 each month on bank fees and nothing else. However, starting on August 25, the political action committee started running ads for 11 Democratic candidates running for seats in the Massachusetts Legislature. The disclaimer on the ads says the PAC paid for them, although these expenditures do not appear in the online records of the state’s campaign finance office.

That’s the case even though the organization has spent hundreds of dollars on ads supporting candidates in this election cycle. From Wednesday, October 21 to Tuesday, October 27, for example, the political action committee spent $386 on ads about social issues, elections, or politics. And in August and September, it spent between $100 and $199 on ads promoting state Representative Tram Nguyen (D-Andover), state Representative Michele DuBois (D-Brockton), and state representative candidate Damali Vidot (D-Chelsea). 

“With only a few days before election day, it’s become increasingly mystifying why some PACs and organizations decide to skirt campaign finance rules in order to elect or defeat their candidates in an improper way,” said Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, in a written statement.

“Massachusetts has very zealous campaign finance rules. Either MA Clean Water Action Vote Environment PAC doesn’t believe they need to adhere to them because they won’t get caught, or they don’t respect voters enough to make sure they follow the law. We hope they will withdraw their Facebook ads before Tuesday to show they do have some integrity left,” concluded Craney. 

Ellen Tomlinson, the communications manager for the Environmental League of Massachusetts, told New Boston Post in an email message:  “No comment at this time.”

A spokesman for Clean Water Action Massachusetts could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jason Tait, the education and communications director for the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, declined to comment on the substance of the allegations.

“Complaints and requests for review are frequently submitted to OCPF, but we don’t comment on them (for statutory reasons),” Tait wrote. “If/when a complaint is resolved, the resolution becomes public and is posted to the OCPF website here:​.”