The year 2016 is the year of the angry, the disaffected, those who tell us they can’t trust American politics. They’re right.
For all the efforts of the candidates in the First Suffolk and Middlesex special senate election on Tuesday, 83% of eligible voters stayed at home. It’s hard to blame them. The Democrats for Education Reform Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee spent about $43,000 to elect Dan Rizzo. Should voters have hustled to the polls to cast ballots for the DFER candidate? Curious voters – or cynical voters – or voters simply paying attention - might have noticed that DFER is a dark money organization that hides its donors and thus its true interests from the people of Massachusetts. In politics, follow the money. We learned that long ago.
Unfortunately for DFER, Rizzo finished second. That disappointment may have been in part due to a last minute smear against Rizzo by the Mass Values Independent Expenditure PAC, established in 2012 and largely funded by two unions, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Service Employees Union 1199. Michael Jonas of Commonwealth Magazine did an exceptional job reporting on this. (Full disclosure: as a member of the Faculty Staff Union at UMass Boston, I am an MTA member). A mailer sent out by Mass Values IEPAC asserted that Rizzo had endorsed “Republicans like Mitt, Romney, Scott Brown and John McCain.” According to a spokesman for Rizzo and all credible independent reports, this was a lie.
Here is what Mr. Jonas reported on Election Day, April 12:
The Mass Values PAC did not answer an email sent to the address listed on its original filing in 2012.
While the PAC has reported no donations for the current election cycle, it began the year with a $10,600 balance, enough to fund the recent mailings.
The two big funders of the PAC have both endorsed candidates in the race: 1199 SEIU is backing Livingstone and the Mass. Teachers Association is supporting Edwards.
Neither union returned a call on Tuesday asking about the mailer.
So should a citizen make a voting decision based on information received from Mass Values IEPAC? Absolutely not. As for 1199 SEIU and MTA, it would certainly help to know if they both authorized, or one acquiesced, or one independently of the other approved the $7,473.00 worth of falsehoods about Rizzo. Is it possible the unions publish accurate information under their own names and outsource the scurrilous stuff to Mass Values PAC? It is harder to judge the culpability of the unions in this, and this is one use that SuperPACs are put to – to disseminate material the sponsor would not want in its own name.
Contrary to what many in the public believe, most politicians are honest. They endeavor to carry out their campaign promises and they try to protect their reputations for being truthful. Reputation is not a restraint on SuperPACs or politically oriented 501(c)(4) organizations like the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, because the people pulling the strings remain hidden.
One consequence of the 1st Suffolk & Middlesex race is that Mass Values and Democrats for Education Reform are early contenders for the 2016 Massachusetts Fraud in Politics Award. But there is no reason to close nominations on April 14.