In the churn of the November election, state Senator Ryan Fattman made a series of rapid-fire and hefty donations to the Massachusetts Republican Party, totaling $137,000. And in nearly every instance, the GOP quickly spent similar — if not identical — amounts helping another candidate: the senator’s wife.
In all, the Massachusetts Republican Committee spent $136,405 on print advertisements, mailers, and other materials supporting Stephanie Fattman‘s reelection campaign as Worcester County’s register of probate. Six of the party’s expenditures aiding her came in October, and often just days after her husband, a fellow Sutton Republican, cut checks to the party, according to records.
That included a $46,500 donation Ryan Fattman’s campaign made to the party on Oct. 9 — the largest single contribution the party’s state account reported receiving last year. Four days later, the party spent $46,348 on mailers for Stephanie Fattman. In another instance, the four-term senator made a $5,766.73 contribution to the state party two days before it spent the exact amount — including the 73 cents — on campaign materials supporting his wife.
Legally, there are no limits on what the four-term senator can donate to the party, or what the party can spend in helping another candidate, including Stephanie Fattman.
But the donations fall within the time frame in which state campaign finance regulators say the Fattmans, Massachusetts GOP chairman Jim Lyons, and others may have violated campaign finance laws, including those barring people from disguising the true source of donations.
Ryan Fattman also may have broken a rule that says candidates cannot 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, according to campaign finance officials.
The Fattmans and Lyons have denied they violated any campaign finance laws, and have cast the investigation as an unfair inquiry.
The director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on Thursday referred evidence against the couple, Lyons, and others to the state attorney general’s office, which can pursue a criminal or civil probe of its own.
Spokespeople for both offices declined to say Friday if Fattman’s donations to the state party and the party’s spending on Stephanie Fattman — identified by the Globe through a search of public records — were part of the evidence given to prosecutors.
Michael Sullivan, OCPF’s longtime director whose final day was Friday, also has not publicly detailed the exact allegations against the Fattmans, their family members, and others. William Campbell, a Republican and most recently Woburn’s city clerk, is scheduled to take over as director of the campaign finance office on Monday.
But Sullivan said it appears Ryan Fattman, Lyons, and the state party may have violated various campaign finance laws and regulations during 2020. Sullivan also reportedly told Fattman he believes the lawmaker violated a rule that bars candidates from giving more than $100 to another candidate.
Fattman, in an e-mailed response Friday to questions about the state party donations, reiterated that candidates can legally make unlimited contributions to a party committee, and that under OCPF rules, donors “lose all control over how those funds are used,” he said.
“The only limited exception is a prohibition on a candidate mandating how the party must spend a donation. And put simply, I didn’t tell the party how it must spend my donations, and the party didn’t make any promises to me,” Fattman said.
“The bottom line is that Sullivan apparently dislikes the results of my following the very rules he himself wrote,” he said. “That doesn’t make it illegal to follow the rule. It means he should have written a different rule.”
Massachusetts Republicans have repeatedly criticized Sullivan’s investigation as a partisan pursuit, arguing that the donations OCPF was scrutinizing are similar to those that Democrats have routinely made to party committees. Lyons has called the probe a “cowardly hit job.”
Lyons on Friday did not address questions through a spokesman about the party’s spending on Stephanie Fattman’s campaign. But he, too, said in a statement that state law is “crystal-clear” that the state party can take unlimited donations from a candidate. “That’s what happened here,” he said.
Among Ryan Fattman’s donations to the party was a $25,378.62 contribution on Sept. 28. Three days later, the party reported spending a near identical amount, $25,278.62, on print advertisements backing Stephanie Fattman.
On Oct. 7, the party paid the same marketing vendor another $34,459 for mailers helping her campaign. Two days after that, the Ryan Fattman Committee made another donation to the party, this time for $34,600, records show.
The party’s expenditures helping Stephanie Fattman in October totaled nearly $133,000, and accounted for 30 percent of the Mass. GOP’s state-level spending that month, at a time when every legislative seat and other county-level positions were on the November ballot.
The state party has struggled to raise cash in recent years, and Lyons has feuded with allies of Governor Charlie Baker about how the party spent money before his election to chairman in January 2019. The $1.9 million the state party raised during 2019 and 2020 through its federal account was the lowest for a two-year cycle in more than a decade.
OCPF said it also found evidence that the Sutton Republican Town Committee, which is led by the Fattmans, also may have violated campaign finance laws.
Public records show in August that Ryan Fattman donated $25,000 to the town committee, where his brother, Anthony, is chairman and the senator himself is secretary. In the two-plus months afterward, the committee reported making $33,253 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.
It is not clear if those specific donations were also the subject of Sullivan’s probe. But Sullivan reportedly contended that Fattman may have violated rules capping what one candidate can donate to another, raising the potential that OCPF was investigating whether the town committee was used as a pass-through for donations to Stephanie Fattman’s campaign.
Ryan Fattman has previously said Sullivan launched a probe in December, including into contributions the lawmaker’s campaign made to state and local Republican committees.
In early February, OCPF had issued the Fattmans a notice of intent to refer his investigation into them to prosecutors, and the couple sued Sullivan in March as part of an unsuccessful bid to block him. The Fattmans argued that Sullivan had pursued a biased and “illegal” investigation and had refused to turn over to them all the evidence he had against them.