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Gubernatorial candidates back campaign disclosure bill

Measure calls for faster reporting of ‘super’ PAC contributors

All three Democratic gubernatorial candidates are backing House-approved legislation that could shake up this year’s campaign by imposing new disclosure requirements on outside groups seeking to influence its outcome.

Republican Charlie Baker said he was generally supportive of the measure, but criticized what he called a special exemption for Democratic-leaning labor unions.

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Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steve Grossman, and former federal health care administrator Don Berwick all said they support the bill, which would require super political action committees to report their donors within seven days of their expenditures. As primary and general election votes approach, those windows would close to every 24 hours.

In seeking to shine light on shadowy sources of campaign financing, the bill, which would take effect immediately upon passage, could change how voters judge candidates based on the outside groups that are backing them. The House approved the bill last week, and the Senate is expected to take it up soon.

The bill would also double the amount that individuals can donate to state-level candidates in a calendar year, from $500 to $1,000, starting Jan. 1.

Both Grossman and Baker are already the intended beneficiaries of recently formed super PACs. Unions have also helped bankroll a super PAC seeking to undermine Baker. Last week, a former aide to Republican governors organized a super PAC to help unenrolled candidates. The organizer has publicly lauded independent candidate Jeffrey S. McCormick.

Coakley, who holds a large lead in Democratic primary polls, has recently stepped up criticism of Grossman and the outside group supporting him, calling it “the first of its kind in Massachusetts Democratic politics.” Coakley also sought to link the super PAC’s donors to “individuals and companies doing business with the Treasury or other state agencies.”

Coakley had urged the Grossman super PAC “to immediately voluntarily disclose their donors, but unfortunately they have refused to do so and have decided to keep that critical information from voters,” she said in a statement e-mailed by her campaign.

In response, Grossman campaign manager Josh Wolf pointed to a string of campaignfinance irregularities by Coakley, from using a state vehicle for campaign purposes to deploying federal campaign funds for state political activities.

“Let the record show that as Martha Coakley, our state’s chief law enforcement official, continues to lecture Steve on campaign finance law, she has repeatedly violated campaign finance rules and regulations herself and has paid tens of thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees to clean up her mess,” Wolf said in a statement.

Berwick, too, criticized Grossman and the outside group supporting him.

“He clearly now has agreed to accept the support of this super PAC, and I think that’s an unfortunate distortion of our support in this campaign,” Berwick said by phone.

He called the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed for unrestricted outside expenditures, “one of the worst public policy decisions in my lifetime” and “inimical to democratic values.”

“I hope that they do not play a major role” in the governor’s race, he said of super PACs. “I think they distort the stream of support that allows us to bring our case to the people.”

The debate on campaign finance disclosure comes as super PACs are gearing up to spend heavily in Massachusetts. In this year’s gubernatorial election, there is no People’s Pledge, a pact by Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren in their 2012 US Senate race that discouraged outside spending and won plaudits from good-
government watchdogs.

Of all the candidates for governor, Baker was most critical of the bill. An aide said that if Baker were governor, he would send the legislation back with an amendment. Baker said he was hopeful the bill “will become law shortly,” but called it “a perfect example of how the system works when you have one party in control.”

In an e-mailed statement, Baker said he backs boosting the contribution limits, but he thinks the change should take effect immediately, rather than next year. He also proposed shifting the limits from a calendar year to two periods in an election year: one for the primary and another for the general election.

Baker also targeted a “carveout” in the legislation for organizations, such as labor unions, that would leave untouched state campaign finance rules that permit them to give candidates up to $15,000.

“There is no justification for permitting one special interest group to be treated any different from other groups or individuals,” Baker said.

Independent candidate Evan Falchuk wants super PACs outlawed, calling them “a threat to our democracy.” He said they “should be required to immediately disclose their donors.” Falchuk said that if a super PAC wanted to back him, he would encourage it to desist and would apprise the news media of the communications.

Falchuck distanced himself last week from the newly formed Independent Candidates Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee.

A McCormick spokesman said the venture capitalist would sign the bill if he were governor, but declined to say whether he would call on a super PAC supporting him to report its contributors.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Jim.OSullivan@globe.com or on Twitter at @JOSreports.
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