State political races cost $77 million in 2010
By Maggie Mulvihill, Sarah Favot and Matt Porter
February 20, 2011
From political action committees to gubernatorial candidates to county prosecutors, Massachusetts campaign cash spent in 2010 topped $77 million, paying for everything from a county club membership, tuxedo rentals, expensive car leases, makeup artists, cigars, hundreds of floral arrangements and much more, newly released financial reports obtained by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting show.
At least $2.5 million was spent on a practice banned in some states – moving money “sideways” to other candidates, according to NECIR’s analysis of tens of thousands of expenditures.
Ed Bender, the executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, said states like Washington have prohibited that tactic because it serves as a form of political insurance for candidates. It can also be a strategy for getting a less favorable candidate into office, he said.
“Whenever you have a party in power and they’re able to move money sideways to other candidates, it’s a way for them to ensure they maintain their power and foster cronyism,” Bender said. “The person elected in a particular district is elected by people there. If they’re not able to raise enough money in that district and if, instead, the money comes to them sideways, from another powerful candidate who bails them out, the question in voters’ minds should be who will that candidate be listening to—the voters or a powerful legislative leader,” Bender said.
Massachusetts filers also contributed generously to favored causes and charities, the never before released reports from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance show. Candidates and other filers raised about $107 million in 2010, the reports show.
Campaign finance experts said that is also a concern because contributors, when giving, feel they are supporting a particular candidate – not filling the coffers of politicians or causes they wouldn’t necessarily support.
“Most citizen donors expect their campaign money to be used for campaigning -- advertising, bumper stickers, campaign staff, etc., and would be shocked at some of the kind of spending that actually occurs,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Massachusetts Common Cause, a non-profit government watchdog group that tracks campaign spending.
While the bulk of last year’s spending appears to be for traditional campaign costs like advertising, printing and postage, other surprises lurk in the reports.
Significant cash was spent by former politicians who haven’t held elected office in years or those who ran unopposed last year.
Filers also spent hefty amounts on legal fees, gifts, meals at tony restaurants and international travel and hundreds of pricey floral arrangements.
“The campaign finance law is very loose regarding what campaign funds can be spent on. The standard is anything that furthers a candidate’s political future so long as it isn't primarily for personal use. That covers a lot of things and we think it should be stricter,” Wilmot said.
More than a dozen candidates spent over $1 million, including election night losers like Guy W. Glodis, who voters rejected for state auditor in the primary.
Another million dollar loser was Republican Karyn Polito, who lost the race for state Treasurer to Democrat Steve Grossman. Among Grossman’s expenses was nearly $800 for a makeup artist last summer, the records show.
Glodis said he has no regrets.
“No. At the end of the day I want to know I gave it everything I could to win the race--that includes spending as much as I can raise,” Glodis, the former Worcester County sheriff, said.
Glodis’s outlay pales in comparison to the top individual spender overall - failed gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker.
Baker, a Republican, outspent his rivals by at least $1.5 million.
Baker spent $6.2 million compared to winning Democratic Governor Deval Patrick’s $4.4 million and losing independent, former state Treasurer Timothy Cahill’s $4.7 million, the records show.
The millions needed to run for statewide office grows each year, Wilmot said.
“Without either vast personal wealth or relying on special interest campaign donations, it is difficult if not impossible to be competitive for governor or other top offices. That doesn’t serve the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Wilmot said.
The more than 1200 filers, which include political action committee and ballot question supporters, had until Jan. 20 to file their year-end finance reports, said OCPF spokesman Jason Tait.
While most did, a precise accounting of annual campaign spending is still difficult to pin down. Many candidates leave required information blank, like who was paid or why the expense was made. Among the biggest offenders last year was aspiring state Auditor Republican Mary Z. Connaughton, who accounted for about 15 percent of records lacking information about the purpose of the expense.
Connaughton said it was not her campaign’s fault the blanks occurred. As a state-wide candidate, she said the responsibility of reporting to OCPF falls on the bank. She said campaigns send checks with the purpose written in the memo line. .
Connaughton lost to Democrat Suzanne Bump.
"Campaigns are required to provide purpose information, which is why if it is left blank we would ask a campaign to clarify," said Tait.
Other filers give vague explanations for spending like “miscellaneous” or “political expense,” making it hard to discern what the payment was actually for without checking with every filer.
Just four percent of House and Senate candidates did not file by the Jan. 20 deadline, Tait said.
Candidates are fined $25 a day up to $5,000 for filing late, he said.
Among filers who did not meet the deadline are Suffolk County’s Register of Deeds Francis M. “Mickey” Roache, failed gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross and the Hillary Rodham Clinton Legacy Political Action Committee, the records show. Roache filed his report on Feb. 9.
Still the OCPF reports give the clearest available picture to-date of campaign cash collected and spent last year.
Politicians who have been out of public life for years spent tens of thousands in 2010 on everything from restaurants meals to their favorite charities.
Former Suffolk County Superior Court Criminal Clerk John A. Nucci, who now works for Suffolk University, spent over $16,000 last year. His single biggest expense was to Suffolk University – a $10,000 donation to the John Nucci Family Scholarship fund, the records show.
Nucci left elected office in 2005, according to the Suffolk University website.
Nucci also gave generously to other candidates and charities and used a campaign credit card to pay for Christmas and constituent gifts, flowers, a purchase at a Cape Cod package store and restaurants like the Ruth Chris Steak House.
“John's not retired. John is a politician and is trying to keep his name alive for any future campaigns,” said Al Caldarelli, Nucci’s campaign treasurer. “It's nothing for a politician who picks up the tab [at dinner] every once and a while.”
“Campaign funds should not be used to enhance the lifestyle of the candidate -- especially long after their career is over. That's wrong, and we'd like to see it stopped,” Wilmot said.
Nucci’s spending also struck a nerve with Bender.
“He’s living large at the expense of his campaign donors,” Bender said.
Campaign committees should end after they file their year-end reports and give the remaining funds to a constituency fund or to charity, he said.
Richard P. Iannella, who resigned abruptly last month from elected office, spent about $33,000 in his bid to retain a six-year term as Suffolk County Register of Probate. His largest expense was $4000 for Red Sox tickets for “poll and supporters,” but he also paid federal taxes and bought over $2000 in flowers, the OCPF records show.
One report shows he purchased $1144 worth of flowers from Winston Flowers on Jan. 26, 2010. Iannella said that could not have been for a single arrangement.
“I've never spent that kind of money in my life [for flowers] unless my daughter was getting married,” said Iannella in a phone interview “And she ain't getting married.”
Filers in 2010 spent close to $100,000 on flowers, mostly for funeral arrangements, but also on congratulatory and thank you pieces, the records show.
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino ranks as one of the most generous flower givers, spending at least $7000 on flowers in 2010, most from his favorite florist, Exotic Flowers, in Boston.
A spokesperson for the Menino campaign could not be reached and the mayor’s office declined comment.
Flowers are such a powerful political tool and are so common that OCPF has even created specific regulations for them. Candidates cannot buy flowers for people they or their treasurer has a personal relationship with, the flowers must be appropriate for the occasion, and an “important political relationship” must exist, the regulations state.
Filers also spent tens of thousands on gifts and other festive items – St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas being among the most popular spending occasions, the records show.
Spending millions on items the average person sees as a gift is a serious concern that has unfortunately become a campaign finance norm, particularly with special interest donors, Wilmot said.
“They want to maximize the personal impact of the donation and are happy to pay for dinner. That I think is a problem. As campaign funds become closer and closer to personal use, they also become closer to illegal gifts” Wilmot said.
Former high-profile politicians now working in much less prominent elected positions were also big spenders last year, like former Senate Minority Leader President P. Brian Lees, a Republican from E. Longmeadow.
Lees, who left the state Senate in 2007, is now the Hampden County Clerk of Courts. He spent nearly $500 a month last year to lease a car with campaign funds, OCPF records show.
Pricey cars were a typical 2010 expense for Massachusetts politicians.
Current House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) spent close to $1000 per month for his 2010 Ford Explorer, OCPF records show.
DeLeo spent about $383,000 getting reelected to the House in 2010, the records show.
His campaign treasurer, David N. Martin, said DeLeo pays 25 percent of the monthly costs for the vehicle, which DeLeo also uses for personal transportation, while the campaign pays the rest.
“He selected the Ford Explorer because he wanted to lease a vehicle produced by an American manufacturer that can handle local weather conditions,” Martin said.
DeLeo’s Senate counterpart, Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), used over $800 in campaign funds each month to lease a 2009 Jeep Cherokee, though a spokesman said she has another car for personal use.
Paying for lawyers was another typical expense, the records show.
Former Middlesex County Sheriff Jim DiPaola, who committed suicide in November, used at least $12,000 in campaign funds for legal fees, including paying the law firm formerly run by former House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran. But DiPaola’s spending was far less than the legal bills racked up by other politicians, among them Cahill, Essex County sheriff Frank Cousins and state Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati (D-Ludlow).
Filers spent at least $1.8 million on food, beverages, catering expenses, liquor and coffee. Vendors ran the gamut from upscale restaurants like Top of the Hub in Boston to Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, the records show.
The gubernatorial candidates spent the most, more than double of nearly any other candidate in 2010. The Patrick campaign spent a little over $100,000 dollars for events that included fundraisers at the Ritz Carlton, Omni Parker House, and the Top of the Hub, the records show.
A campaign spokesman said the spending is business as usual in the race for governor.
“The Governor’s campaign enjoyed unprecedented grassroots support,” said Patrick spokesperson Stephen Crawford in a statement.
“Many individuals and families chose to contribute their time and money to our effort and we believe that the least we could do is provide them with food and refreshments. It was just one small way to show our gratitude for their continued support.”
Bender said reestablishing voter trust in politicians – currently at an “all-time low” – would be helped if campaigns spent money judiciously.
“The way a campaign spends money is a reflection of how a candidate is going to govern. A campaign should reflect the value of spending wisely,” Bender said. “Spending lavishly on gifts or flowers or cars . . . for most people that’s not something they can do.”