New study scrutinizes campaign donations to Mass. sheriffs

A new study finds that since 2010, Massachusetts sheriffs have received $2.6 million in donations from people associated with companies that could present conflicts of interests.

The report from the nonprofit government watchdog group, Common Cause, says donations largely came from the health care, telecommunication and construction industries.

The research is based on campaign finance data and information obtained through public records requests from sheriffs' offices in 11 states, representing fewer than 3% of all sheriffs nationwide. The data look at what Common Cause calls "ethically conflicted donations" from incarceration-specific industries that stand to benefit from contracts with correctional facilities.

Nationally, the group says construction and real estate businesses donated the most to the sheriffs reviewed in the study.

"Departments need to start contracting with industries based on the quality of service rather than what benefits their campaign purse," said Keshia Morris Desir, the census and mass incarceration project manager with the group. In one example, the report noted contributions by jail health care companies that have poor or mixed records of caring for sick prisoners.

The Bristol County sheriff's office ranked high among recipients of such donations in the state, according to the report. In a statement, Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, said the report finds no actual violations of campaign finance law.

Hampden County Sheriff Nicholas Cocchi's office is also mentioned in the Common Cause report as having received nearly $400,000 in "ethically conflicted donations" since 2010. Cocchi took office in 2017.

He said in a statement to WBUR that his "office complies with all state laws regarding the awarding of contracts." He said, "state law determines to whom bids are awarded and the Commonwealth must approve all vendors."

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the donations are from people who own or work for companies that could present conflicts of interest.

This article was originally published on January 11, 2022.

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Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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