Republican candidate for governor Mark Fisher made an explosive accusation against the Massachusetts Republican Party Thursday, saying two people, including a state committeeman, called Fisher in December to offer him $1 million to get out of the race.
"The GOP made the illegal offer to me," Fisher said in a morning news conference.
Fisher said the committeeman referred him "to someone higher up in the party."
The party was quick to deny the allegation.
"Mr. Fisher made numerous false and unsubstantiated statements [Thursday]," Kirsten Hughes, the party chair, said in a statement. "The facts ... are that Mr. Fisher asked the MassGOP leadership for $1 million dollars to abandon his lawsuit, and later revised his offer to $650,000, not the other way around."
The Tea Party-aligned Fisher sued the party after missing the ballot at the state Republican convention in March.
Fisher claims that the party has thus far been unwilling to release tally sheets from the convention. It appeared initially that Fisher had made the ballot, but party officials decided to count blank ballots, and thus made him ineligible because he fell short of the 15 percent of the vote required. Fisher's suit seeks to force the party to release the tally sheets.
"Those tally sheets from the convention, they will show criminal activity," Fisher said.
He called on leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker to pressure party officials to release the tally sheets, and on Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate.
"His claim that we are unwilling to open that ballot box is also false," Hughes said. "Given that this is a legal matter, there is a process to follow and we are abiding by that. We have every expectation that the ballots will be reviewed."
Fisher declined to say who called him to offer the bribe in December, at first citing a gag order.
"I think he was just a messenger," Fisher said of the state committeeman who he said first called him.
When pressed at the news conference about the gag order, Fisher demurred, agreeing that no gag order covered his allegation of a bribe in December. He said instead that on the advice of his attorney, he was refraining from naming the people who offered him the money.
"There is no gag order preventing Mr. Fisher from providing proof to support his bogus claims," Hughes said.
Fisher also described an April meeting at the Worcester offices of the law firm of Bowditch & Dewey. Present at the meeting, but in two separate rooms, Fisher said, were Ed McGrath and Louis Ciavarra, attorneys for the Massachusetts Republican Party, Hughes, the party's executive director Rob Cunningham, Fisher and his attorney, Tom Harvey. Fisher said McGrath, Hughes and Cunningham were in one room, Fisher and Harvey in another. Ciavarra, Fisher said, went back and forth between the two rooms.
Fisher says Ciavarra offered two settlements of Fisher's lawsuit against the party, one with Fisher on the ballot and another with him off the ballot.
"And he said with me on the ballot would be certain amount of money," Fisher said. "With me off the ballot would be a larger amount of money."
Fisher said Ciavarra said it might be illegal to pay someone to drop someone out of a race.
"So the settlement would have to be structured in such a way to prevent to prevent the FBI from investigating," Fisher said Ciavarra told him.
"There was what I consider to be a confidential settlement meeting on April 22 in my office," Ciavarra said when reached for comment Thursday. "We were not successful in reaching a settlement."
Ciavarra said it was Fisher who proposed that he be paid.
"Any comment or suggestion that people were trying to do something behind the scenes in order to avoid an investigation is simply untrue," Ciavarra said. "We would not be able to pay him simply to go away."
Fisher said he has incurred "at least" $70,000 in legal fees in his lawsuit against the Republican Party. He says he wants the party to reimburse him for those fees and an estimated $30,000 he says he has spent on signatures to get himself onto the ballot.
"I need that now to go forward with the campaign," Fisher said. "Their actions have caused me to spend money that I didn't want to spend, that I didn't need to spend."
The Republican Party offered to settle the lawsuit by certifying Fisher's candidacy, while maintaining that he fell short of the necessary votes at the convention. Fisher would then have to submit the required 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot.
But Fisher says he is not prepared to drop his request for the release of the convention tally sheets in exchange for being placed on the ballot.
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