By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 23, 2012…. Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray on Monday sought to distance himself from a report that disgraced former Chelsea Housing Authority Executive Director Michael McLaughlin illegally raised money for his campaign, calling McLaughlin’s alleged actions “outrageous.”
Under scrutiny for his political relationship with McLaughlin, Murray’s campaign committee delivered a letter to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance asking for an investigation into “alleged improprieties on the part of McLaughlin.”
The letter, signed by Murray, indicated that Paul Johnson, legal counsel to Murray’s political committee, would be in contact on Monday with OCPF Director Michael Sullivan, and the Citizens Committee to Elect Tim Murray would “co-operate (sic) fully in connection with this matter.”
“I am outraged and frustrated by Mr. McLaughlin’s actions and . . . I feel like I’ve been misled,” Murray said on Monday morning. “I feel misled,” he said again. “I wish I had known more, maybe asked more, but as candidates for elected office and elected officials people volunteer, they offer to help and you take people at face value.”
An OCPF official declined comment when asked whether an investigation would be launched.
Though Murray denies any knowledge of McLaughlin’s fundraising actions and has downplayed his relationship with the veteran political organizer, his ties to the former housing official appear to have damaged him politically three years away from a governor’s race in which he could be a candidate.
The letter to OCFP came in response to an article published in Sunday’s Boston Globe based on both named and unnamed sources, including sources the newspaper described as more than two dozen politicians, housing authority employees, and Murray campaign workers.
The article detailed what appeared to be a close political relationship between Murray and McLaughlin. The story suggested that McLaughlin helped organize fundraisers for Murray’s campaign for lieutenant governor, and may have coerced employees from the Chelsea Housing Authority to donate to Murray.
“I never asked him, nor am I aware of anybody in my fundraising campaign, my political campaign staff or my fundraising staff asking him to raise money or soliciting things, so when we read these anonymous allegations it’s concerning and as a result we’ve asked the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to investigate the matter because if people were pressured or solicited to give we want to know who that is and return dollars. It’s something we’re taking serious and want to be proactive about,” Murray later told the News Service in an interview.
Murray also denied anything unusual about the volume of phone calls traded between him and McLaughlin. The Globe reported 193 phone calls between the two men over the past two years, but Murray today attributed many of those to “phone tag” when he or McLaughlin left a message, but did not connect.
He also said the volume increased late last year after Murray found himself in the center of a political dust-up in Dracut when an appointee to the Dracut Housing Authority, whom Murray recommended based on advice from McLaughlin, helped lead an ouster of the housing authority director.
“I got dragged into a political fight that I knew nothing about. That’s when I started to talk to him more frequently,” Murray said.
McLaughlin resigned in November following revelations that he had underreported his income as $160,000 when he was actually being paid $360,000 a year. Gov. Deval Patrick demanded McLaughlin’s resignation at the time, and petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court to place the housing authority into receivership. McLaughlin is also under investigation by the F.B.I., and other state and federal agencies over allegations that he co-signed checks to himself for unused sick days and vacation at the time of his resignation, and the evidence was destroyed.
Murray described McLaughlin as a campaign volunteer to whom he was introduced in the summer of 2006 when running his first campaign for lieutenant governor as someone active in politics in the Merrimack Valley. Murray said McLaughlin was “probably one of about a dozen people” in the region supporting his campaign.
Murray spokesman Scott Ferson said McLaughlin introduced Murray to fundraisers, but never hosted or organized a political fundraising event for the candidate. McLaughlin was prohibited from political fundraising because he was an employee of an agency that received federal subsidies.
The Globe story suggested McLaughlin not only helped organize at least three fundraisers for Murray’s campaign for lieutenant governor, but also may have coerced employees from the Chelsea Housing Authority to make small cash donations to Murray that are not required to be itemized in campaign finance reports if they are under $50.
“If he was organizing, or asking people for checks or coercing donations, it was completely without our knowledge. There’s not a record in Tim’s account of any of those people giving money as far as we can tell,” Ferson said. Murray also said McLaughlin may have spoken at the events to introduce local elected officials, but was never asked to solicit donations.
The Globe also reported based on the newspaper’s own examination of spending reports that McLaughlin may have used money from the Chelsea Housing Authority budget to bus senior citizens to a campaign rally for Gov. Deval Patrick and Murray in Everett in 2006.
“That’s the first that’ I’ve read of that, and if that happened it’s wrong,” Murray told the News Service.
The Globe reported, based on an anonymous official, that Murray had been warned about associating with McLaughlin, who has been the subject of multiple ethics investigations during his public service career though never prosecuted.
Asked if he had made an error in judgment by trusting McLaughlin, Murray cited the fact that the Chelsea Housing Authority has been subject to audits by the federal Department Housing and Urban Development, as well as the state auditor and others.
“I knew that Mr. McLaughlin had been involved in political campaigns and stuff like that, but I was certainly not aware of some of the things that had been reported that took place during the 80s when I was in junior high and high school,” Murray said.
The Murray campaign has already returned donations received from McLaughlin and members of the Chelsea Housing Authority board of directors, and Murray said his committee tries to “Google” and do background checks on all donors.
Asked whether he worried that questions about his ties to McLaughlin could damage him politically, Murray said he felt “frustrated” and “angry.”
“As someone who spent much of his adult life around issues of housing and homelessness, it’s outrageous,” Murray said.