Massachusetts’s top campaign finance regulator on Thursday told prosecutors he has evidence that a state senator, his wife, and the head of the state Republican Party, among others, may have violated various campaign finance laws, publicly expanding what already was an unusually high-profile investigation.
The Office of Campaign and Political Finance formally referred a probe into state Senator Ryan Fattman and Worcester County Register of Probate Stephanie Fattman, both Sutton Republicans, to the attorney general’s office.
The decision came less than 10 days after the Fattmans lost a court bid to temporarily block the agency from handing evidence against them to prosecutors, and just four days before Michael Sullivan, the OCPF’s longtime leader, is scheduled to be replaced.
In referring the probe to prosecutors, the OCPF did not detail the exact evidence it has against the Fattmans, their family members, and others in any of the eight, one-page letters it released publicly and sent to Attorney General Maura Healey.
But the letters indicate the investigation may more wide-ranging than previously known. In addition to the evidence against the Fattmans, the OCPF said it also found potential violations by Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican party; the Republican State committee; and Brent Andersen, the party’s former treasurer, who didn’t seek reelection to the state committee more than a year ago.
Sullivan said his office has evidence Ryan Fattman, one of three Republican senators in the 40-member body, “may have violated” a series of laws and regulations last year, including one prohibiting people from disguising the true source of a campaign contribution.
Lyons and Stephanie Fattman, who won a second term in office in November, face similar allegations, as does Anthony Fattman, Ryan’s brother and the chairman of the Sutton Republican Town Committee. Ryan Fattman was, in fact, referred twice to prosecutors, both in his capacity as a senate candidate and as the treasurer of his wife’s campaign.
Healey’s office could pursue a criminal or civil probe of its own. A spokeswoman for Healey’s office confirmed it had received the referral and would review it.
Healey’s representatives did not immediately release any other information on what the OCPF found. A spokesman for Sullivan declined to release further information.
Lyons on Thursday denied that he, the party, or the Fattmans had violated any law and argued that Sullivan has more aggressively pursued Republicans than high-profile Democrats, including those who faced federal charges in the past.
“This is a cowardly hit job as Michael Sullivan walks out the door,” Lyons said.
The Fattmans had sued Sullivan last month and sought an injunction against any referrals to Healey, arguing that the OCPF director pursued a biased and “illegal” investigation with the goal of, as their attorney claimed, getting “one last defendant for his trophy case” before he steps down.
The Fattmans also argued that Sullivan never fully detailed the evidence against them. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Christine Roach ruled that they had “no reasonable likelihood of success” proving that Sullivan violated state law by not turning over all the evidence to them, or that he violated their due process rights\\ by not recusing himself from the probe, as they have demanded.
On Thursday, Ryan Fattman contended that Sullivan rushed the investigation, saying the director had admitted that he “targeted” the lawmaker and scheduled a hearing at a time when Fattman couldn’t attend.
“Sullivan’s actions today are done under a cloud . . . on the day before his last day,” Fattman said in a statement. “Sullivan’s actions today are based on his feelings and not facts. Sullivan’s actions today are based on politics and not the law. From day one, Sullivan has shown he is a biased director that overreached his authority and didn’t care about the law.”
Fattman said he looks forward “to discussing this matter with the attorney general and reaching a resolution.”
Ryan Fattman said that Sullivan had launched a probe in December, including into contributions the lawmaker’s campaign made to state and local Republican committees.
In early February, Sullivan had issued the couple a notice of intent to refer his investigation into them to prosecutors, saying his office found evidence they and others had violated a rule that says candidates may not make contributions to a political committee “on the condition or with the agreement or understanding” that the funds must then be sent to someone else.
Public records show that in August the four-term senator donated $25,000 to the Sutton Republican Town Committee, where his brother, Anthony, is chairman and Ryan Fattman is secretary. The contribution accounted for two-thirds of what the committee raised last year, according to its records.
In the two-plus months after Ryan Fattman’s donation, the committee then reported spending $41,000, with the vast majority of it, $33,253, made in in-kind contributions to help Stephanie Fattman’s campaign, including in canvassing and phone calls to buttress her successful reelection to a second six-year term.
State law allows candidates to make donations in unlimited amounts to party committees, which are allowed to spend money to aid specific candidates.
But according to Fattman, Sullivan contends the lawmaker violated a state law that bars candidates from giving more than $100 to another candidate. It raised the potential that the OCPF was investigating whether the couple used the town committee as a pass-through to aid Stephanie Fattman’s campaign.
It is not clear if these specific donations, or others, have been the subject of Sullivan’s probe. It’s also unclear how far back the potential violations may stretch into 2020. Andersen — whom Lyons defeated in the chairman race in 2019 — did not seek reelection to the Republican State Committee in March 2020 and said Thursday that he has not been party treasurer since March 4 of last year.
“This is another example of Jim Lyons’ staggering incompetence,” Andersen said in an e-mail.
Lyons has publicly railed against the investigation into the Fattmans, suggesting the senator’s donations to state and local parties are the “same type of donations to political committees that Democrats have been making for generations.”
“Why isn’t Sullivan referring the Democrats to the attorney general’s office? The reason is because he doesn’t refer people to the attorney general’s office when they don’t violate the law, except in the case against Senator Fattman,” Lyons said in an interview Thursday. “Just as those folks did not violate the law, neither did senator Fattman and neither did the MassGOP.”
Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.