State campaign finance regulators have found evidence that Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray may have violated state law by accepting political donations from the disgraced former Chelsea housing director.
In a previously undisclosed letter, sent in September, they asked the attorney general to investigate Murray, as well as key members of his campaign team. If eventually charged and found guilty of knowingly accepting illegally raised campaign contributions, the lieutenant governor could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500 for each violation.
Aides to Murray, who said last week that he will not run for governor in 2014, have repeatedly said that he did nothing wrong and is not a focus of the state’s criminal investigation of the fund-raising activities on his behalf by former Chelsea housing director Michael E. McLaughlin.
It was Murray himself who initially requested that state campaign regulators examine his fund-raising, presumably hoping the outcome would clear his name.
However, the Sept. 19, 2012, letter from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to the attorney general’s office leaves no doubt that regulators found evidence of wrongdoing by Murray in his relationship with McLaughlin, who organized numerous fund-raisers for Murray even though, as a public employee, he was barred from political fund-raising.
“The evidence . . . indicates that McLaughlin, Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, and the Citizens Committee to elect Tim Murray did not comply with section 7 of the campaign finance law, which prohibits the solicitation or receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with the campaign finance law,” Michael J. Sullivan, director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, wrote to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. The letter was first made available Thursday.
“The Murray Committee never authorized Michael McLaughlin to do any fund-raising on its behalf,” Murray consultant Scott Ferson said in a statement. “Neither the media nor any regulatory agency has ever identified any fact indicating that the Murray Committee authorized McLaughlin to engage in this activity. We continue to fully cooperate with any authorities looking into this matter.”
Governor Deval Patrick staunchly defended his lieutenant governor on Thursday, saying he believes that Murray did nothing wrong.
“They are investigating the charges of McLaughlin raising money inappropriately, and that is exactly what they should be doing,” Patrick said. “And I trust this lieutenant governor and his account of what happened, and didn’t happen, and I’m going to let the jobs of the attorney general and other investigators get done and not succumb to insinuation.”
McLaughlin, who resigned in November 2011 amid the uproar over his inflated $360,000 salary, was charged Wednesday with four felony counts of concealing his salary from state and federal regulators. The charges were contained in a document federal prosecutors normally use when the defendant is expected to plead guilty, but McLaughlin’s attorney Thomas Hoopes declined to comment.
After the federal charges were announced, Coakley made it clear she is continuing her separate inquiry into McLaughlin, focusing, in part, on his fund-raising for Murray.
McLaughlin was one of Murray’s first supporters when he ran for statewide office in 2006 and over the course of several years organized fund-
raisers and turned out his employees and tenants at political events for Murray and Patrick.
“As we’ve acknowledged, the issues raised in [Sullivan’s] letter are under investigation, and as a result we cannot comment further at this time,” said Brad Puffer, Coakley’s spokesman.
Sullivan’s letter raises new questions about Murray’s short-lived gubernatorial bid, which ended abruptly when Murray withdrew to spend more time with his family, surprising some supporters. Murray had been raising funds since the fall, including $136,639 in the last two weeks of December alone.
According to Sullivan’s letter, Murray and several of his campaign aides were informed months ago that regulators suspected them of violating state campaign finance law. In fact, Sullivan wrote that Murray and his campaign aides each asked for a hearing prior to Sullivan turning the case over to Coakley for further investigation.
Murray, who has hired former US attorney Donald Stern to represent him, has already been examined under oath by investigators in the McLaughlin case and has spent $78,659 on legal bills from his campaign funds, according to his campaign finance reports. Under state law, politicians have wide discretion in how they spend campaign funds, including for their legal defense.
Sullivan’s letter to Coakley also cites evidence of wrongdoing by several others, including James McNichols, a former senior Chelsea Housing Authority accountant and friend of McLaughlin’s who sometimes collected political donations from housing employees for McLaughlin, according to interviews with current and former employees. State and federal laws prohibit public managers from pressuring their employees to donate to political campaigns. McNichols’s lawyer declined to comment on the letter.
Others named in the letter are Murray’s current and former campaign treasurers, dating back to 2000: David Martin, a principal in the campaign finance compliance firm Chick Montana; Brendan Moran, a former Murray campaign aide; and Carolyn Leary, whose husband was Murray’s former chief of staff. Martin declined comment; the others could not be reached.
The Globe reported in January 2012 that McLaughlin was a key organizer and fund-raiser for the lieutenant governor, though Murray aides at the time flatly denied that McLaughlin was a fund-raiser.
Several people said they attended fund-raising parties for Murray where McLaughlin and Murray stood side by side. For Murray to be charged criminally, prosecutors would have to have evidence that Murray knew McLaughlin was raising money for him.
Political fund-raising “was pretty much done in the open,’’ at the housing authority, said an employee who remembered donating cash to Murray’s campaign at the office.
Several employees said McLaughlin aides asked them for donations, including significant cash gifts, in apparent violation of federal and state law. State law allows cash contributions of up to $50, but the employees said they were asked for $100 and their donations were not reported.
Though grand jury proceedings are secret, it is clear that investigators have focused on McLaughlin’s fund-raising for Murray through last fall. One person who was first questioned under oath last spring by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance said he was called to a grand jury in late November to testify about the McLaughlin-Murray connection.
After the Globe story last January, Murray asked state campaign officials to investigate whether McLaughlin had violated any laws while campaigning for him.
“I request that the Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigate the alleged improprieties on the part of Mr. McLaughlin,” Murray wrote to Sullivan, the office’s director.
At the time, Ferson said Murray was concerned that McLaughlin may have coerced some donors to give.
“If any of that money ended up in Tim Murray’s account, we want to identify it and return it,” Ferson said at the time.
globe.com; Sean P. Murphy at email@example.com.