Last November, when the American Federation of Teachers wanted to slip a cool half-million into a last-second ad buy to support Marty Walsh’s Democratic candidacy for mayor of Boston, it had a New Jersey union front group (One New Jersey) hurriedly concoct a Boston union front group (One Boston). Now both front groups have agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a dispute with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance for five different violations: failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers. Still, it worked: Walsh won.
This is a classic case of the way unions and other left-wing pressure groups operate to influence elections. The only anomaly: the union groups paid for a positive ad, rather than the usual attack ad. That may be explained by One Boston’s indication that it sought to influence “Women 50+,” who may be more susceptible to positive ads than negative ones.
To illustrate the way these scams work, we provide a bit more background on the groups involved. One Boston is the kind of pop-up mystery group the Left often creates at the last minute in an election. Its life spanned only October 23, 2013, to January 7, 2014, but the big checks it cut for ads immediately raised the local media’s eyebrows and made them wonder what this strange beast was. Later, when the truth came out, the CommonWealth Magazine website sketched a portrait of One Boston:
The group parachuted into the mayoral race from nowhere. It listed a two-family home in Roslindale as its headquarters. Its committee chair and treasurer, Jocelyn Hutt, was a political ghost: She was an infrequent voter whose name didn’t appear in state or federal campaign finance databases.
Legally, One Boston was a 501(c)(4) or “social welfare” nonprofit. It disclosed only one donor, another 501(c)(4), One New Jersey, which in turn is a mysterious group. You can tell from One New Jersey’s website that it lives to excoriate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), but who or what is behind it is opaque.
It has no IRS tax filings available on Guidestar.org, but it does have a single IRS tax filing available on the Foundation Center’s site, and on that form you can find three names: Steve DeMicco, Brad Lawrence, and Steve Rosenthal—the President, Secretary, and Treasurer, respectively. Those names make it possible to peel back some of the mystery.
Rosenthal, as his Wikipedia entry notes, “is a longtime labor and political strategist.” His résumé includes founding America Coming Together, “a voter mobilization project aimed at defeating incumbent Republican president George W. Bush” that was “one of the largest voter mobilization campaigns in Democratic history.” He also spent seven years as political director of the AFL-CIO, where he was credited with “transforming” organized labor’s campaign operation into the nation’s “most effective.”
His One New Jersey colleagues DeMicco and Lawrence are also behind-the-scenes operatives who’ve worked together in Jersey politics since at least 1979. Their P.R. firm Message and Media has won the last three Newark mayoral elections and is one of the state’s most prominent political outfits, helping elect governors, senators, and representatives, often using union money to buy the air time for ads.
Message and Media also produced One Boston’s ad, but everyone kept mum about who had supplied the half-million needed for that. It was weeks after Walsh’s victory before the AFT confessed to the Boston Globe that its coffers had underwritten the ads.
The final background data: every outside group that spent money to elect Walsh was revealed as union-backed, including SEIU entities, American Working Families PAC, Working America, etc. In fact, David Bernstein of Boston magazine estimated that more than 80% of all money for Walsh—both “inside” his official campaign and pouring in from outside groups—came from labor bosses.
The outside spending set a record for such money in Massachusetts, and the mayor’s race also set a record as the state’s most expensive municipal race ever. Why were labor bosses so keen to see Walsh beat Connolly? As the Boston Globe explains, Connolly “had several high-profile spats with the Boston Teachers Union in his six years” on the city council.
The Globe found that Walsh’s union backers poured $2.5 million via independent expenditures on his behalf, or about double the $1.3 million in outside support that Connolly received. To further clarify the two candidate’s critical difference: Connolly’s outside support came exclusively from national education reform groups.
Presumably the AFT will pay the $30,000 fine, even though it’s not named in the court documents, especially given that One Boston no longer exists. As Mike Antonucci of the indispensable Education Intelligence Agency blog jokes,
AFT believed $500K was a good investment to get Walsh elected. Another $30K or so might just be considered a gratuity.
Actually, it’s a cheap gratuity – $30,000 on $500,000 means the AFT is only leaving a 6% tip.