BEVERLY — Senator Scott Brown, seeking to fan a controversy that erupted this week, demanded Friday that his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, reimburse taxpayers for the $276,000 that the state spent to mail thousands of voter registration forms to welfare recipients.
Warren’s campaign quickly rejected the demand, calling it “a ridiculous political stunt.”
Brown, a Republican, has argued that the mailing to 478,000 welfare recipients was a partisan plot to boost Warren’s campaign, since it was spurred by a lawsuit filed by Demos, a liberal group that is chaired by Warren’s daughter.
State officials have said they agreed to the mailing to ensure they were in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, the federal law requiring welfare offices to provide recipients with voter registration materials.
Demos has said Warren’s daughter played no role in the suit, and pointed out that they have filed similar lawsuits in eight other states.
But Brown said he was troubled that Massachusetts is the only state Demos has sued that agreed to send out mass mailings. Other states have agreed to less costly remedies, such as better training for welfare officials or upgraded computer systems.
“It’s unprecedented to send out ballots to people at taxpayer expense,” Brown said Friday after stopping for a sandwich and fries at Nick’s Roast Beef in Beverly. “Professor Warren has over $13 million in her account. If she wants to have her daughter and that group do that, she can pay for it herself.”
Warren’s campaign manager, Mindy Myers, released a statement blasting the senator’s demand.
“This is just a ridiculous political stunt,” she said. “It’s not about Scott Brown. It’s not about Elizabeth Warren. And it’s certainly not about anyone’s daughter. And as a father, he ought to think about that. This is about enforcing a bipartisan law passed almost 20 years ago and enforced by presidents of both political parties.”
Brown said Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, 40, thrust herself into the race because the group she chairs filed a lawsuit in the midst of her mother’s campaign.
“It’s her daughter, it’s her group and, obviously, there’s a relationship there,” he said.
Brown also suggested that the Patrick administration agreed to send the mailings to help Warren.
“Living in Massachusetts, people understand these kind of backroom deals happen,” he said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
But Trey Grayson, the former Republican secretary of state in Kentucky, and now director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said that while he understands Brown’s suspicion, the mass mailings appear to be appropriate.
Elizabeth Warren’s campaign rejected the demand, calling it ‘a ridiculous political stunt.’
They are also not without precedent. In 1996, Michigan agreed to mail voter registration forms to more than 600,000 welfare recipients to settle a lawsuit brought by the ACLU.
“I don’t think it is fishy,” said Grayson, a Brown supporter. “My sense is it’s probably above board in the sense these lawsuits have gone on in other states,” and many states have fallen short in offering voter registration forms to welfare recipients, as required by federal law.
“In Kentucky, we weren’t great about it, but didn’t get sued,” he said. “It is a problem that’s out there.”Michael Levenson
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