May 03, 2016

As controversy swirled around a state GOP fund raising letter offering PACs access to decision makers, Governor Charlie Baker backed away from the letter, telling the Boston Globe “I didn’t write the letter, and I didn’t see the letter until it showed up in the paper.”

I know the governor is a busy man, but he may have to start reading the letters before they go out. The most likely event that could plunge his high approval ratings into the gutter would be a money scandal and when there is this much eager money around, scandal will surely follow.

As the Globe reported, the Massachusetts Republican Party’s appeal directly to PACs may be seamy but it is legal – legal being the lowest possible standard in the post-Citizens United World. Maybe we can steal a phrase from the marquees at the old Combat Zone and call this the Barely Legal fundraising scheme.

We shouldn’t miss the flavor of the appeal so let’s go directly to Jim O’Sullivan’s Globe story first reporting the direct plea to PACs:

“In an effort to continue building upon our strong relationships within the business community, this year we are expanding opportunities for PACs to work more closely with our team,” Elise Dickens, a state GOP official recently hired from the political operation of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, wrote in a recent e-mail to potential donors.

The letter solicits support from interest groups that have previously spent money in state politics, often with an eye on influencing policy.

Members of the newly formed “MassVictory PAC Program” are offered access to “meetings, one-on-one calls, and fund-raising events with Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor [Karyn] Polito,” Dickens wrote. Such events include a June 21 dinner in which PACs can sponsor tables for $15,000 apiece.

Attached to the e-mail is a contribution form also encouraging individual donors to give up to $43,400 per person to the Republican Party’s joint state-federal fund-raising committee, the maximum allowable under federal law.

Access – why not when we’re all on the same team? Lately the Globe has vigorously reported on the governor’s aggressive fundraising, which I’ve dubbed Charlie Baker’s Campaign Finance Innovation District.  Access is a wonderful thing – it’s a good reason why when it comes to achieving policy “the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent,” a topic I wrote about in Baker, Rosenberg, and DeLeo Sing with the Heavenly Chorus. Who needs to scrounge for an audience when your contribution promises access to “meetings, one-on-one calls, and fund-raising with Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor [Karyn] Polito.”

There is an emerging sea of political science research by esteemed professors like Gilens, Page, Bartels, and so on who show that in the national policy game, the upper ten percent get their policy needs met and the bottom ninety percent never do. Additional research shows that the rich really are different – the One Percent are radically conservative on economic, energy, environmental, and regulatory issues. And they are driving the money game, national and state.

From the marginally legal we get to dark money, which features SuperPACs and IRS 501(c) groups with their anonymous (to the public) contributors – they can spend money on policy goals sought by political figures too, like charter schools. The whole purpose of dark money is to hide the funders, but wouldn’t you suspect some of those public spirited citizens are on the GOP’s mailing list too?

No political figure wants to admit to being influenced, but so long as we are human we all are influenced by others who aid us or meet our needs. It’s called the reciprocity principle and if you violate it you fall into the category of Moochers! Welchers! Ingrates!

After Charles Keating was convicted of fraud in the savings and loan scandal of the Eighties, he was asked if his numerous campaign contributions to U.S. senators had benefited him and he responded, “I want to say in the most forceful way I can: I certainly hope so.”

Governor, better read those fund raising pitches before they go out, or the Barely Legal campaign may cause real trouble.

Massachusetts Republican Party, dark money, Charlie Baker

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