STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
A NEW SUPER PAC closely tied to Gov. Charlie Baker and funded by a familiar ensemble of well-heeled GOP donors has been spending heavily this fall in local elections, backing both Democrats and Republicans.
The Massachusetts Majority super PAC has reported spending $267,429 to support candidates in mayor and city council races and is being led by a prominent Leominster developer, who also happens to be a major donor of the governor’s.
New disclosures filed this week with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance show that Massachusetts Majority has raised over $920,000 since it was created in May.
The filings are the first from the super PAC, which can accept unlimited donations, including corporate money, and offer a glimpse at who is behind the group, and who is benefiting from its spending.
Though the super PAC claims no formal affiliation with Baker’s political operation, the governor’s top finance staffer is consulting with Massachusetts Majority on fundraising, and one of its top contributors said he gave based on an understanding that his money would be used to support candidates backed by Baker.
“Basically the governor is raising money through this PAC, or the PAC is there so he can have influence with the folks he thinks are appropriate,” said Ray Stata, the owner of Analog Devices and the founder of the Massachusetts High Technology Council.
The rise of the Massachusetts Majority independent expenditure PAC coincides with the decision by the MassGOP to sever a lucrative fundraising agreement with the Republican National Committee, known as the Massachusetts Victory Fund, that had allowed Baker to help raise large sums of money for the party from wealthy donors in excess of state contribution limits.
It also comes at a time when new MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons is steering the party into more socially conservative, pro-Donald Trump territory, diverging from Baker’s brand of centrist Republicanism that the governor has practiced to great individual success in a state where Democrats control most elected offices.
The demise of the Massachusetts Victory Fund has sparked concern among some in the party about Lyons’s ability to raise enough money to help Republican candidates up and down the ballot. The super PAC, according to one Republican operative, is an outlet for donors worried that the MassGOP won’t be able to effectively build the party from the ground up with flagging resources.
Lyons declined to comment on the Massachusetts Majority super PAC.
Massachusetts Majority this year has outraised the MassGOP by more $300,000, according to state and federal campaign finance reports, and its largest donors include Stata, Wayfair co-founders Niraj Shah and Steven Conine, Granite Telecommunications CEO Robert Hale, and auto dealer Daniel Quirk.
Other well-known donors include former ambassador and Carruth Capital president Christopher Egan and Edmund English, the executive chairman of Bob’s Discount Furniture and the former CEO of TJX Companies.
Hale, who has given primarily to Democrats over the years, donated $100,000.
Massachusetts Majority chairman Gregg Lisciotti said the organization supports candidates “who are common sense, bipartisan, fiscally responsible leaders.” Lisciotti was appointed by Baker to the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority board, and was also a member of his transition committee in 2014.
While he said Baker “is aware of the PAC and supports its mission,” Lisciotti said the super PAC does not coordinate expenditures with him or any other candidates. Baker’s senior political advisor Jim Conroy confirmed that Baker knows about the super PAC and is “supportive,” but said the governor is careful not to get involved.
Lisciotti, who recently found himself in the headlines over a budget amendment he had state Sen. Dean Tran file to benefit his development business, said he is in charge of Massachusetts Majority’s fundraising efforts.
However, Lisciotti said the super PAC also hired the governor’s finance director, Tim O’Leary, as a fundraising consultant.
O’Leary took over the Baker campaign’s fundraising operation after the 2018 re-election campaign during which he served as deputy finance director, and is “firewalled off” from decisions about how the super PAC spends the money it raises, Lisciotti said.
“Many of our PAC’s donors are long-time supporters of Gov. Baker, and may first have met Tim in his work with the governor’s prior campaigns. In our fundraising, however, we have explained that we are an independent PAC raising funds for own efforts, and that we would support common sense, bipartisan, fiscally responsible candidates in the mold of Governor Baker,” Lisciotti said.
Stata gave $35,000 on October 7 to Massachusetts Majority, which he said he found out about through his connections to Gov. Baker. O’Leary said he solicited the donation from Stata for Massachusetts Majority. Stata has also given $15,000 to the MassGOP this year through its state and federal committees.
The biggest beneficiaries in the latest round of spending were Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, a Democrat, and Worcester City Council candidate Donna Colorio.
Overall, the super PAC has spent over $38,000 to support Colorio’s candidacy, easily the most of any of the 15 candidates who have received support. The money was used to pay for a mailer sent to residents of Worcester that misspelled the name of the city.
Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund is the next biggest beneficiary of the super PAC at $27,285, followed by Framingham City Council candidate Janet Leombruno ($24,501), state representative and Taunton mayoral candidate Shaunna O’Connell ($22,950), and Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo ($21,312).
The super PAC has also backed a mix of other local candidates, including Donald Humason, a Republican state senator running for mayor in Westfield, and Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale, a former Democratic lawmaker.
Many of the candidates, including Melrose mayoral candidate Monica Medeiros and Boston city council candidate and former MassGOP chairwoman Jennifer Nassour, have been formally endorsed by Baker.
The list of supported candidates also includes Amesbury Mayor C. Ken Gray, Attleboro mayoral candidate Heather Porreca, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant, and Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin.