State’s chief cam­paign of­fi­cial seeks heftier fines for PACs

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By MATT STOUT — matthew.stout@boston­her­

Big money PACs that pump mil­lions of dol­lars into state and lo­cal po­lit­i­cal races face a scant $25-aday fine if they file their re­ports late — a loop­hole the state’s top cam­paign of­fi­cial wants to close to dis­cour­age th­ese out­side and usu­ally hid­den fund­ing sources from dodg­ing dis­clo­sure.

Michael Sul­li­van, the head of the Of­fice of Cam­paign and Po­lit­i­cal Fi­nance, says it’s time for law­mak­ers to stiffen penal­ties, cit­ing a re­cent case in which he could levy only a $50 fine for a late-re­ported, 11th-hour at­tack flier in the tight spe­cial elec­tion for an open East Bos­ton-based Se­nate seat.

“You have in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture PACs spend­ing large amounts of money. I’m look­ing at that and say­ing, ‘You know what? I don’t think $25 is go­ing to be a de­ter­rent to some­one mak­ing a $200,000 or $300,000 me­dia buy,’ ” Sul­li­van told the Herald.

Any move to boost penal­ties — last set in 2010 — should tackle “the whole uni­verse” of fines, said Sul­li­van, ad­ding, “We have a one-size-fits-all (sys­tem), and I’m not sure if that’s the way it should work.”

Sul­li­van rec­om­mended in a letter rais­ing fees “sub­stan­tially,” but said he doesn’t have an ex­act amount in mind. In­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture PACs spent $16.9 mil­lion in the 2014 gu­ber­na­to­rial race alone, show­ing the money and in­flu­ence they now wield in po­lit­i­cal races.

“When you’re talk­ing about the mil­lions of dol­lars that are spent on out­side ex­pen­di­tures, $25 is just a slap on the wrist,” said Pam Wil­mot of Com­mon Cause. “The con­se­quences of late dis­clo­sure can be sig­nif­i­cant. Peo­ple eval­u­ate po­lit­i­cal ads and mail­ings dif­fer­ently if they know who is spon­sor­ing them.”

The is­sue sur­faced in the case of Mass Values PAC, which OCPF de­ter­mined this month had vi­o­lated cam­paign fi­nance law when it de­layed dis­clos­ing $7,400 in fliers it mailed into the district on April 9, three days be­fore the Demo­cratic pri­mary for the East Bos­ton Se­nate seat.

The fliers ac­cused former Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo of reg­u­larly en­dors­ing Repub­li­cans, which he de­nied, and showed him in pho­tos with former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Mitt Rom­ney.

The PAC should have dis­closed the mail­ers within 24 hours, but didn’t do so un­til Elec­tion Day, when vot­ers were al­ready head­ing to the polls, where new­comer Joseph Bon­core even­tu­ally prevailed.

In a state­ment from the Mas­sachusetts Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which has poured more than $149,000 into the PAC, the PAC said it in­tended to file on time but missed the one-day dead­line due to an “in­ad­ver­tent ac­count­ing er­ror.” It said it paid its $50 fine.

Rizzo did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

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