The father of US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III contributed $2 million in old campaign funds to support his son’s unsuccessful Senate bid, new campaign finance filings show, confirming a suspicion that had dogged the final, contentious weeks of the bruising intraparty challenge.
Kennedy, who failed to unseat US Senator Edward J. Markey in the Sept. 1 Democratic primary, had dodged rumors that the New Leadership PAC, which was formed in July to help his campaign, was being funded in part by his father.
A Federal Election Commission filing reported by Politico Monday confirmed that “Citizens For Joe Kennedy 1988” transferred $1 million to the New Leadership PAC on Aug. 5, and another $1 million on Aug. 19. The elder Kennedy, who represented Massachusetts in Congress from 1987 to 1999, had more than $2.8 million left over in a campaign account, The Boston Globe previously reported.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate, provided they do not coordinate with the candidate.
Kennedy has disavowed knowledge of his father’s role in the New Leadership PAC and said that he had pushed hard to limit outside spending in the race, urging Markey to sign a so-called People’s Pledge that would discourage outside parties' involvement. But Markey, who had already been pledged support by an environmental PAC, resisted, and both candidates benefited from third-party spending and advertising.
“Joe is incredibly grateful to all the people who generously donated to the Super PAC supporting his campaign," spokeswoman Emily Kaufman said in a statement. "That being said, he fought hard to keep Super PACs out of this race for months — as is well-documented. Unfortunately, Senator Markey decided to let them in.”
The New Leadership PAC raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it from labor groups. But because of the timing of its required filings, the names of August donors were not disclosed until after the Sept. 1 primary election.
“Voters should have had this information. But the PAC didn’t do anything wrong,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at the good government group, Common Cause.
He noted that in the final days of the race, the PAC backing Kennedy frequently reported last-minute spending, as required.
But those reports only reveal where the money is being spent — not who contributed it. Congress could amend the laws to require disclosure of the source of the funds, as well, he said.
“The public deserves more information not only about last-minute spending but about last minute fund-raising,” Ryan said.
Speculation about the elder Kennedy’s involvement had injected rancor into a race that turned increasingly bitter and personal, with Markey referencing Kennedy’s family and perceived privilege.
In one debate, Markey questioned Kennedy: “Is your father funding that super PAC that is attacking me right now?”
“No clue. No idea,” Kennedy replied.
Markey demanded that Kennedy “tell ya father” to stop funding negative ads against him — a Boston-accented taunt that the campaign seized on by producing T-shirts.
Kennedy countered by accusing Markey of weaponizing his family name and by highlighting his relatives’ leadership on issues like civil rights with what he characterized as inaction by Markey, a longtime congressman.
Asked to respond to the confirmation of the suspicions the Markey campaign had amplified, Markey campaign manager John Walsh said, “It is what it is,” then joked, " ‘I told you so’ seems cheap.”
Walsh pointed to the quirk of campaign finance law that permits late donors to political action committees to remain anonymous.
“Here’s the thing: It’s not illegal. This is all within the rules,” said Walsh. “The rules should be changed.”
“Whatever people think about super PACs, they should at least be as transparent as the candidates they seek to support,” said Walsh