This has been a brutally difficult year for Massachusetts candidates to raise money. Thanks to the recession, the large number of competitive races vying for contributions, and the generally negative attitude toward pols in the state, candidates and their campaign managers say that money has been nearly impossible to obtain.
But there is a clear exception to that drought: House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who appears to have smashed recent records for fundraising to this point in the year.
DeLeo, in the first election year since becoming Speaker in early 2009, has raised more than $400,000 — at least $100,000 more than recent Speakers Sal DiMasi and Tom Finneran, or Senate presidents Therese Murray and Robert Travaglini, collected in similar periods. In fact, it appears to be a record for a Speaker or Senate president since contribution limits were enacted in 1994 (discounting 2002, when Tom Birmingham was raising money for a gubernatorial run).
Almost all of that mighty sum came in during the legislative session, as DeLeo decided the fate of everything from budget line items to the gaming bill. But the public is only now able to look at those contributions, and to raise questions about the potential influence being bid on.
That’s because state legislators, despite last year’s ethics reforms, don’t have to file any information during election years until a week before the primary. While contributions to many statewide, county, and city officeholders in Massachusetts are released twice a month, lawmakers have not subjected themselves to the same scrutiny.
Those pre-primary reports, covering the entire year through late August, were filed last week — well after the legislature finished its work and adjourned for the year at the end of July.
Thus, we can only learn now that at the end of March, several dozen ophthalmologists contributed more than $20,000 to DeLeo; or that on June 18 the DeLeo committee received more than $12,000 from executives of staffing and recruitment companies; or that on May 12 more than two dozen Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owners maxed out with $500 donations.
There is no evidence of direct pay-to-play or quid pro quo results from this largesse. It’s also worth noting that some of the heaviest-spending lobbying interests, with the most at stake in legislation this year, such as the gaming and education industries, were not heavy donors.
And certainly none of this is anything new under the Golden Dome; DeLeo may have set a modern record, but he is doing nothing that House Speakers and Senate presidents haven’t done before him.
But that’s just what some see as the problem: nothing has changed, despite all the talk of ethics, lobbying, and transparency reform — and the much-reported public anger and frustration toward money-driven insider access. If you thought that maybe, given all that, the Speaker might temporarily step back from collecting checks from lobbyists and special interests, you thought wrong.
Everybody does it
The Senate version of the 2009 ethics-reform bill included a ban on all lobbyist campaign contributions, but the House version, and the final law, left in place the $200 limit — a seemingly insignificant amount, but valuable to DeLeo, who has received at least $45,000 directly from registered lobbyists this year, according to a Phoenix review of campaign-finance records.