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State GOP party leader asks federal criminal authorities to investigate possible misuse of more than $1 million in party funds

Jim Lyons questions spending by Governor Baker’s fund-raiser

Jim Lyons.
Jim Lyons.handout

State Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons has asked the US attorney and the FBI along with three other agencies to investigate whether former employees and fund-raisers for the GOP — including Governor Charlie Baker’s former finance director — misused more than $1 million in party funds.

Lyons, who took over leadership of the party in 2019, has been reviewing the party’s finances for more than a year. In letters requesting the investigation, he alleged that John Cook, Baker’s former finance director, has since 2013 directed the party to pay more than $1 million to businesses he owned or controlled even though he was not an employee of the party or working under a contract.

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“Cook used the MassGOP to pay for his staff, his travel, his meals, and his supplies, as part of his ongoing fundraising enterprise. Despite spending millions of dollars, there were only 164 invoices produced to support these expenses,” alleged Lyons, suggesting there should have been vastly more documentation.

Lyons told authorities that he would soon send 250 pages of detailed records to back up his concerns. He sent the letter to the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, US Attorney Andrew Lelling, the Federal Election Commission, and the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Lyons declined to comment, and Cook did not return e-mails seeking comment. Jim Conroy, Baker campaign adviser, declined to comment.

However, Brent J. Andersen, who was state party treasurer from 2003 to 2020, rejected Lyons’s claims, saying in a statement that they “are motivated solely” by his “personal political interest,” apparently referring to conflicts between Lyons, a Donald Trump supporter, and Baker.

“They are false and not credible. By making them, he is doing great damage to the Mass. Republican Party,” Anderson said, adding that all the transactions Lyons is concerned about “were disclosed in real time to the FEC and Massachusetts OCPF, and for the past several years have been posted online for anyone to review.”

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Anderson added, “I call on Massachusetts Republicans to reject Jim Lyons’s personal vendettas, and refocus the Mass. Republican Party on its mission of supporting Republican candidates and winning elections.”

Baker and his team have been estranged from the party since the conservative Lyons was elected chairman of the party, succeeding Kirsten Hughes, a staunch Baker ally who didn’t seek another term. Lyons, a former state representative from Andover, is up for reelection in January.

Hughes, who was nominated by Baker to be a clerk magistrate in Stoughton District Court, has sharply criticized Lyons for scrutinizing the party’s finances during her time as party chairman. She did not return a call seeking comment.

In an October 2019 e-mail to party members, she criticized Lyons’s investigation as “an unfortunate effort to distract attention from the Party’s current and most important challenge — raising the resources to support our candidates and run a statewide field program to match our opponents,” according to the Statehouse News Service.

Hughes said in the 2019 e-mail that the party was spending money faster than it could raise it. The party had a balance of just over $347,000 in both its state and federal accounts on Oct. 1, and had raised about $600,000 in 2019 after Lyons inherited a balance of $303,000 at the start of the year.”

“This massive operating deficit has made it unsustainable to pay the rent at Boston HQ, and will make it impossible to provide any meaningful financial support to candidates next year,” Hughes wrote.

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Lyons has moved the party headquarters from downtown Boston to Woburn.

Among Lyons’s allegations is that Cook used the party’s proprietary database of GOP donors without permission to raise money after Lyons took over party leadership.

Lyons alleges that, after he was named chairman, Cook “concocted and put into motion” a plan to retain access to the database, kept by software giant Salesforce.com. For some time, the party was locked out of its own database, the Globe has reported.

In his letter to authorities, Lyons said that the party paid associates of Cook hundreds of thousands of dollars, without contracts or backup documentation. Between 2017 and 2018, the letter says, a party employee was paid $303,586, for reasons that were unclear.

Lyons alleged that another former party fund-raiser received a $108,000 salary from the party and that a company he created collected $427,809 from one of the party’s fund-raising accounts, Mass Victory Fund. That fund, which is now depleted, was part of a joint fund-raising committee with the National Republican Party. It allowed Baker to solicit donations well above state contribution limits.

Cook also paid a compliance firm, Red Curve Solutions, more than $248,000 over a two-year period, without any contract, Lyons alleged, “end-running the financial accountability mandated by federal and state campaign finance laws.”

Lyons said after discovering the “excessive disbursements,” MassGOP lawyers requested interviews with former chairman Hughes, the former GOP employees, as well as MassGOP treasurer Andersen.

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Hughes and the former employees received two written requests from the MassGOP, Lyons wrote. All three refused to meet. Andersen agreed to an interview, Lyons wrote, but said he didn’t know how the money was spent.

Andersen said he “would always know payments going out of our state and federal accounts. If that is in his report, that is another lie from Jim Lyons.”

Frustrated, Lyons sent letters to the five federal and state agencies on Nov. 30 requesting an investigation.


Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.