State Representative Martin J. Walsh received a hefty financial boost in late June as he and other Boston mayoral candidates scrambled to meet an end-of-the-month fund-raising deadline.
A union representing painters and Boston public school custodians sent Walsh a check for $10,000, an amount 20 times larger than the maximum donation allowed by an individual contributing to a campaign.
Another mayoral candidate, Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo, deposited a $13,000 check late last month from a union that represents doormen, security guards, window washers, and other building workers.
Labor unions and a few other organizations are allowed to donate large sums to political campaigns under a provision of state campaign finance law that could have a significant impact on Boston’s crowded race for mayor.
Twelve candidates competing for resources are stretching the city’s fund-raising capacity as never before. Individuals can donate only $500. Large checks from organized labor can help feed money-
hungry campaigns in the race to the preliminary election on Sept. 24.
“It helps a lot,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “When resources are spread around among a very large field of candidates, any concentrations of resources have an especially significant impact.”
The large donations are allowed under a provision of campaign finance law that applies to labor unions and other nonprofits so long as the groups do not receive corporate money. Under the law, a union can donate up to $15,500 to a single candidate in a year. With their close ties to organized labor, Walsh and Arroyo have been the only candidates this year to benefit from the large cash infusions, but the practice is not new.
Leading up to his last election in 2009, Mayor Thomas M. Menino deposited $30,000 from unions representing carpenters, bartenders, hotel workers, and others.
Menino’s competitor, Michael F. Flaherty Jr., collected more than $27,000 from a dozen firefighters unions across the country, including a $14,500 check from the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington, D.C.
This year, unions are not the only organizations making substantial contributions to the mayor’s race. The law firm Mintz Levin has hosted fund-raisers, for example, and attorneys and employees there have donated more than $16,000 since January to Boston mayoral candidates.
But at Mintz Levin, staff members must write small checks as individuals.
When Arroyo collected $13,000, it came in one shot from the treasury of a branch of the Service Employees International Union based in New York. Arroyo previously worked as political director for an SEIU local in Boston.
“Felix Arroyo will make an excellent mayor,” said Teresa Candori, a spokeswoman for the New York-based union, 32BJ. “He’s a former organizer and SEIU staffer, and he is strongly committed to working families.”
In a statement, Arroyo’s campaign said he was “proud to have the active support of an organization that represents hard-working families striving to make ends meet each and every day.”
Walsh has already deposited three large checks from unions and is well positioned to receive more. He remains president of Laborers Local 223 and ran the Boston Building Trades, an umbrella group that represents unions of ironworkers, electricians, and others. Walsh resigned his buildings trades post when he launched his bid for mayor, but his influence in the group has continued.
Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 donated $6,000 to Walsh’s campaign, and Builders Wreckers Union Local 1421 chipped in $1,000. All three unions that made large contributions, including the $10,000 from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 35, are all members of the Boston Building Trades.
“I am proud that I have earned the support of the approximately 7,300 hard-working men and women represented by those three unions, and the support of all of the other hard-working people of Boston who have donated to my campaign,” Walsh said in a statement.
The Painters and Allied Trades District Council is a consortium of 14 unions, which includes a local that represents almost 500 Boston public school custodians. The group donated $1,000 in 2009 to John R. Connolly when he was running for City Council.
The Painters and Allied Trades Council also gave $3,000 over three years to Arroyo, who has fought hard for custodians in the City Council, especially during lean budget years when janitors faced layoffs, said John Laughlin, political director for the district council.
But the majority of the 4,000 workers represented by the district council work in construction, a stronghold for Walsh, a one-time laborer.
When the district council’s 70 delegates voted this year, Walsh won the $10,000 donation.
“We were certainly torn, but when you have two good friends in a race, sometimes you have to make decisions,” Laughlin said of Arroyo and Walsh.
“Rather than sit back and wait for the field to be decided in the [preliminary], I think it was important for us to try to weigh in on behalf of a candidate who would be great for the city overall,” he added.