A Superior Court judge has rejected state Sen. Ryan Fattman’s request to put the brakes on a campaign finance investigation involving him and his wife.
The Fattmans and others filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court on March 17, claiming the outgoing head of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Michael Sullivan, is biased, rushed to complete his investigation before a new director takes over in two weeks and refused to show the plaintiffs all the evidence he has amassed in the probe.
But on Tuesday, Judge Christine Roach denied the request from the Fattmans and other plaintiffs for an injunction that would have temporarily blocked Sullivan from forwarding any evidence to the state attorney general, who has the power to sue or prosecute people for campaign finance violations.
Roach found the Fattmans and other plaintiffs had not proven that Sullivan needed to recuse himself or disclose "all the evidence." The judge also said they couldn't demonstrate they had actually been harmed, since it is not yet clear what, if any, action the state will take after it completes its probe. So far, the state hasn’t publicly accused the Fattmans of violating any rules.
State Sen. Fattman, a Webster Republican, expressed disappointment with the ruling.
"Unfortunately, as a result of today’s court decision, now this matter goes back to Sullivan’s closed door and biased proceedings," he said in a statement. "My request is for a fair process, which I have not been given as of today by OCPF."
The civil lawsuit was filed by the Fattmans, their respective campaign committees, the Sutton Republican Town Committee and three other people involved in the campaign committees, suggesting they are all involved in the OCPF probe.
The Massachusetts attorney general’s office, which is representing Sullivan and OCPF, blacked out portions of its filings that might shed light on the details of the investigation.
But in a statement last week, Fattman suggested the state was accusing him and his campaign of violating a rule barring campaign committees from giving more than $100 to another candidate's campaign. He said investigators were specifically focused on his campaign's donations to state and local Republican political organizations.
Fattman didn't name any specific donations that caught the OCPF's attention. But state campaign finance records show Fattman's campaign donated $25,000 last August to the Sutton Republican Town Committee, one of the entities that brought the lawsuit. In turn, the Sutton committee reported it gave more than $30,000 to his wife Stephanie Fattman's successful re-election campaign for Worcester County Register of Probate in the form of help with canvassing, calls, databases, signs and advertising design.
That has sparked speculation that OCPF might be investigating whether the Fattmans used the Sutton Republican Town Committee as an intermediary to get around the $100 limit on how much one candidate's campaign can give to another.
Fattman insisted all his contributions were legal in his statement last week, noting candidates can normally give unlimited amounts to political parties.
Judge Roach's decision also said Sullivan notified all the people who brought the lawsuit that the OCPF had found evidence of a violation of a rule barring "earmarked contributions." The rule says people can't give money to a political committee (other than their own) on the condition that the funds be given to another committee.
Initially, Roach granted the Fattmans’ request to close the initial hearing and impound all documents in the case, even though civil lawsuits are almost always public. But after WBUR's attorney intervened, the Fattmans withdrew their request for secrecy, and the judge lifted the order.
The attorney general’s office didn't object, but argued it needs to continue to black out portions of its court filings to protect confidential details of the investigation. On Wednesday morning, the judge decided to continue to withhold unredacted versions of the documents from the public.