State House News Service published the following article earlier today about MassFiscal’s voter education campaign.
MAILINGS TARGETING MASS. HOUSE DEMOCRATS CAUSE A STIR
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 16, 2014….A conservative, non-partisan advocacy group is creating headaches for many incumbent House lawmakers – all Democrats with GOP opponents this fall – who have been targeted by mailings highlighting votes taken on the gas tax, housing benefits and local aid.
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, led by Republican State Committee member Rick Green, has targeted 20 incumbent Democrats, including some lawmakers who do not always vote in lockstep with House leadership.
Over the past several weeks, those lawmakers and their surrogates, including former legislators like Geoff Hall, of Westford, and Pat Walrath, of Stow, have sounded off against the group in letters to the editor, interviews and social media postings for what they describe as misleading and partisan attacks.
Rep. James Arciero, a Westford Democrat, has been targeted by two mailers from the alliance in his district, and said it’s been frustrating trying to explain to voters some of the claims made in the brochures.
Arciero, who sits on the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee, said he’s particularly bothered by the suggestion that he supported illegal immigrants over veterans.
“It’s bush league,” Arciero told the News Service. “It’s a smear campaign. To suggest the Massachusetts Legislature somehow supports illegal immigrants over veterans is absurd. We lead the nation in providing benefits to veterans and their families and it’s unfortunate that Mass. Fiscal has chosen to spread information that’s misleading and distorted and intended to smear the reputations of me and my colleagues.”
Arciero’s brother is an Army surgeon who just returned from his fifth tour of duty in Iraq, and the Westford lawmaker said he’s proud of all the Legislature has done to support veterans.
The vote singled out by the Fiscal Alliance to justify its claim was one taken during debate on a veterans’ benefits bill. The House clerk ruled out of order a Republican amendment to give preference to veterans in public housing over undocumented immigrants because it was not germane to the bill. Democrats voted to uphold the ruling of the chair.
Paul Craney, the executive director of the Mass. Fiscal Alliance, defended the mailers as an effort to educate voters on the actions their representatives are taking on Beacon Hill.
“It’s pretty black and white,” Craney said. “Some of these lawmakers are crying wolf saying this is political in nature, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just their voting record.”
The mailers paint the targeted lawmakers as being for raising the gas tax and indexing it to inflation, and being in support of “denying veterans priority housing benefits over illegal immigrants.” The group also uses isolated votes to suggest the representatives voted against the existing state health care system in favor of Obamacare and opposed increasing local aid.
Some of the representatives targeted by the mailers, like Arciero and Rep. Colleen Garry, actually voted against raising the gas tax, but supported a state budget for fiscal 2014 predicated on revenues from higher gas taxes. Others voted against a Republican amendment to reconsider local aid levels after lawmakers had already agreed to a local aid level for fiscal 2014 that was higher than the previous year.
Asked if the mailers were entering a gray area by showcasing just a snapshot of the lawmakers’ full voting records, Craney said, “No. That’s something they need to explain to their constituents.”
The Mass. Fiscal Alliance is registered as a 501(c)4 non-profit, which allows it to spend money on election communications so long as they are educational in nature and not expressly advocating the election of one candidate over another.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party has challenged the Fiscal Alliance’s non-profit status with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) and the Internal Revenue Service.
“We’re contending that what they have been doing seems a lot more like overt partisan electioneering than educating voters,” said Democratic Party spokesman Pat Beaudry.
Craney said the mail pieces were pre-approved by OCPF to make sure they were in compliance with state law. The Fiscal Alliance since July has spent $74,908 on mailers and newspapers inserts, which included the groups’ legislative scorecard for the session on issues important to the organization.
While the alliance must disclose its electioneering spending, it’s non-profit status protects it from having to disclose where it is getting its money.
“When you’re talking about issues, the law is there to protect members and donors,” Craney said.
Arciero questioned how the Fiscal Alliance could criticize lawmakers, as it has in the past, for a lack of transparency, and yet shield its donors from the public.
“I find it hypocritical that they’re funneling exorbitant amounts of money into smearing Democrats and not disclosing their money,” he said.
Hall came to Arciero’s defense in a letter to the editor printed in The Sun, of Lowell, last week calling the Fiscal Alliance a “shadowy, partisan organization created to do the dirty work and dirty politics of individuals not willing to do it themselves.”
Arciero is running against Republican Dennis Galvin.
“They deal exclusively with negative push polls and negative mailings that are not only misleading, but contain outright lies. The voters of Chelmsford, Littleton and Westford deserve better than this,” Hall wrote.
One lawmaker contacted by the News Service for this story declined to speak on the record, concerned that they might provoke the organization into spending even more money in their district to defeat them.
Rep. James Cantwell, of Marshfield, posted a forceful rebuttal on Facebook after he was targeted by the Fiscal Alliance mail pieces, noting that he voted in favor of requiring applicants for public housing to have a valid social security number.
“As we recently demonstrated with extremists like the Westboro Baptist Church, good speech can win out over bad if we work together. Lets fight back against these attack groups and talk about what we have done together for our communities,” Cantwell wrote, drawing criticism from some Republican groups for the comparison to the anti-gay group that gained notoriety for protesting funerals.