Super PAC violated campaign finance law by using Baker's name to promote fundraiser
An influential political action committee broke state campaign finance law by using Gov. Charlie Baker's attendance at a summertime fundraiser to drive donations, regulators concluded.
The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance said the Massachusetts Majority Independent Expenditure PAC improperly touted Baker's attendance at a fundraiser invitation to encourage donations to the committee, which like all independent expenditure PACs in Massachusetts is prohibited from coordinating with any candidate.
In a Dec. 8 letter to an attorney representing the Baker-aligned Massachusetts Majority super PAC, the top campaign finance regulator said the governor "remained a candidate within the meaning" of state law even though he did not seek reelection this year.
"As such, the use of his name in conjunction with this fundraising event constituted activity intended to 'finance' the Committee in a manner that did not comply with M.G.L. c. 55 [section] 5A," OCPF Director William Campbell wrote.
Campbell added that OCPF had previously informed the super PAC that "such use of a candidate's name would not be consistent with" state campaign finance law.
The committee, which is run by Baker allies, sent an email on June 22 advertising a fundraiser event at the UMass Club in Boston scheduled for July 25, according to OCPF.
"I'd love for you to join us, along with our special guest, Governor Charlie Baker, at the UMass Club in Boston on Monday, July 25th at 5:00pm in support of the Mass Majority IE PAC, a group that remains instrumental in electing moderate candidates on both sides of the aisle in Massachusetts who have the potential to play key roles in supporting the continued work of Governor Baker," the email said.
To resolve the OCPF probe, the super PAC "purged" the $17,500 it received as a result of the invitation and the fundraiser event, Campbell wrote. An OCPF spokesperson said Monday that the money purged went to the state's general treasury.
However, the head of the political action committee disputed whether the group had in fact violated state law.
"We do not believe the invitation included a solicitation of funds," Massachusetts Majority Chair Gregg Lisciotti said in a statement. "As the time and cost of contesting this point would have far exceeded the amount at issue, we agreed to settle this matter and focus on our mission of electing candidates."
Baker's office could not be reached for immediate comment Monday morning.
The super PAC launched in May 2019 and has spent more than $4.77 million since then, according to OCPF records. Independent expenditure PACs cannot contribute to or coordinate with candidates, but they can deploy their own spending to convince voters to support or oppose individual office-seekers.
In the latest election cycle, Massachusetts Majority flexed its financial muscle in numerous races up and down the ballot. The PAC supported Republican auditor candidate Anthony Amore, who was the only statewide candidate Baker endorsed, and spent in opposition to the victor, Democrat Diana DiZoglio.
It also backed Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a Republican who has long supported former President Donald Trump and who lost to Democrat Paul Heroux.
House and Senate candidates the PAC supported this fall included Democrats Rodney Elliott, Michael Kushmerek, Joseph McGonagle, Michael Rodrigues and Jonathan Zlotnik, Republicans Nicholas Boldyga, Shawn Dooley, Paul Frost, Hannah Kane and Andrew Shepherd, and independent Rep. Susannah Whipps. The group spent in opposition to Leominster Democrat Rep. Natalie Higgins, who defeated Mass Majority-supported unenrolled candidate John Dombrowski.