Massachusetts Sen. Ryan Fattman, a Webster Republican, revealed new details Friday about his mysterious court battle with state regulators.
Fattman, who sued the state’s top campaign finance official in Suffolk Superior Court last week, said in a lengthy statement that regulators have mistakenly accused him of violating state campaign finance rules barring campaign committees from giving more than $100 to other candidates’ committees.
“I feel like you violated the law," Fattman says he was told by outgoing Office of Campaign and Political Finance Director Michael Sullivan.
But Fattman argued campaign committees like his are permitted to make unlimited donations to political parties. He estimated candidate committees have made more than 2,400 donations totaling more than $7 million to parties in the state since 2014.
"Both parties do it all the time," he said. "This is a common practice to help candidates get elected or re-elected.”
Fattman did not specify which donations the state flagged as potential violations. But state campaign finance data shows the Ryan Fattman Committee gave $25,000 to the Sutton Republican Town Committee last August and more than $137,000 to the state Republican party last fall.
Both the OCPF and the attorney general's office declined comment. So far, OCPF has not publicly accused Fattman of any campaign finance violations.
The lawsuit was filed on March 17 by Fattman; his wife Stephanie Fattman; the Worcester County Register of Probate; their campaign committees; the Sutton Republican Town Committee; and individuals involved in the committees, including two other Fattman relatives. The case was filed against Sullivan, the longtime OCPF director who announced his retirement in December.
"The decision to file a lawsuit was not taken lightly," Fattman said in the statement. "However, Sullivan’s troubling statements and actions — taken behind closed doors while falsely accusing us of violating campaign finance rules — left us strongly convinced that his investigation had nothing to do with the law, and everything to do with politics."
WBUR first reported on the lawsuit last Friday. But when the case was first filed, most of the details remained secret. In an unusual move, Superior Court Judge Christine Roach temporarily granted the Fattmans' request to impound the filings and close the initial hearing.
WBUR intervened in the case last week to try to persuade the judge to make the proceedings public. And the Fattmans dropped their request Friday to keep the documents and hearings confidential. After the shift, Roach largely lifted the impoundment order Friday morning.
The newly public documents show Fattman and others filed the lawsuit to challenge the investigation, arguing Sullivan was biased and tried to hastily wrap up the case before a new director takes over next month. The lawsuit also complains the state refused to share its evidence with the Fattmans and related parties, making it harder for them to refute the allegations.
But the attorney general's office, which is representing Sullivan and OCPF, insisted in court documents it is required to keep its investigations confidential. In addition, the state's attorney argued the only evidence of bias the Fattmans presented was a single statement taken out of context.
At an informal meeting in January, Sullivan allegedly said: "I don't care what the law says. I don't care about the difference between must and shall and may." But the state argued Sullivan was simply trying to signal that he wasn't interested in hearing an attorney's "lengthy and repetitive legal argument about the interpretation of a regulation."
Some details in the case still remain confidential.
The Attorney General's office argued in a court hearing Friday that it believes its filings should remain partially redacted to protect the confidentiality of the investigation. Roach ordered the parties to explain their position in writing and indicated a ruling on the remaining redactions could come as early as Monday.