The first bills date to July 29: charges for a Dorchester Holiday Inn Express and a rented van and money to feed political organizers. The workers — two from Ohio, one from Minnesota — came to Boston on the payroll of Working America, the political organizing arm of the national AFL-CIO. Their mission, which now includes other organizers who have racked up $60,000 in hotel bills, is electing state Representative Martin J. Walsh as mayor of Boston.
The national group Democrats for Education Reform is in town, too, but on behalf of Walsh’s opponent, Councilor at Large John R. Connolly. That group claims roughly 60 part-time canvassers working out of field offices in Jamaica Plain and the North End. There are no hotel charges for those organizers, but thousands of dollars have been spent sending canvassers into neighborhoods across the city.
Boston’s race for mayor has been flooded by an unprecedented level of spending by labor unions and other outside groups operating independently of the Walsh and Connolly campaigns. While much of the money has paid for a barrage of television commercials, groups have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars paying people to knock on doors.
“You can put a lot of money in a local election really fast,” said Robert G. Boatright, a political science professor at Clark University who has studied campaign finance. “If you have an agenda . . . you can score an easy victory really quickly.”
Walsh has benefited from three times more outside spending than Connolly, according to records filed with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Walsh is a longtime union leader, and organized labor and other groups have spent $2.5 million on television ads, paid canvassers, mailings, and more. Walsh’s official campaign for mayor had spent only $1.7 million by Oct. 15, the latest data available.
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