In Attorney General Maura Healey’s first six years in office, Massachusetts campaign finance officials sent her evidence that 13 former elected officials, candidates, and others may have broken the law, opening the potential for civil or even criminal charges.
But Healey has not taken legal action in any of the cases, declining at least nine times to pursue a lawsuit or a prosecution, including against candidates with a history of campaign infractions or fines, according to state officials and documents obtained through a public records request.
State officials have disclosed little about the 13 cases the Office of Campaign and Political Finance sent to Healey, four of which remain under review, her office said. The count doesn’t include one of the most recent cases the agency sent her: a probe into a sitting Republican state senator, his wife, and the head of the Massachusetts Republican Party, among others, who may have broken various campaign finance laws during last year’s election, officials said last month.
That Healey, the state’s chief prosecutor, has decided none of the cases rose to the level of civil or criminal prosecution raises questions about how aggressively the state’s campaign finance laws are being enforced. Two former candidates whose cases were referred to Healey told the Globe they were never contacted by her office before it decided not to pursue legal action against them.
“I had no idea I had a case,” said Gregory Delrosario, a former Lawrence City Council candidate whom the Office of Campaign and Political Finance referred to Healey in late 2019 after warning him that he hadn’t filed reports on time or properly disclosed other activity.
Delrosario still hasn’t paid a $50 fine that the campaign finance office levied three years ago. “I’m waiting for them to direct me where I need to pay,” he said.
Healey aides defended her handling of campaign finance cases, saying her office analyzes each one that regulators send and carefully weighs, among other factors, how severe the violations may be. Lawyers also take into account whether the cases involve candidates who won office or are still campaigning, they said.
In eight instances, they concluded legal action was “not warranted,” Healey’s office said. In another, she handed the case to an outside prosecutor after Healey recused herself.
“Our office conducts a thorough review of every referral that comes in from OCPF. Any further action is taken based on the facts and evidence of the case,” said Jillian Fennimore, a Healey spokeswoman.
The Office of Campaign and Political Finance typically resolves dozens of cases on its own each year and refers a smaller number to the attorney general. The office can sue candidates in civil court, prosecute them, or send cases to a local district attorney. In some cases, officials say they will refer a candidate who has not filed campaign finance reports to “compel” them to do so.
Healey’s decision not to pursue legal action, however, can mean the cases fade away. Jason Tait, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said it sends referrals to the attorney general when it finds evidence of violations that it’s “not able to resolve satisfactorily.” At that point, however, “our responsibility for the matter generally ends,” he said.
Michael Sullivan, who led the office for more than 25 years before retiring last month, declined to discuss any of the cases.
The campaign finance law is intended to inject transparency and accountability into how politicians raise and spend donors’ money. To those who follow it, the lack of enforcement on cases, particularly where there’s potential for criminal penalties, is glaring.
“This has so many gaps. And this is not the statute speaking — these are manmade gaps,” said Maurice Cunningham, a University of Massachusetts Boston professor who regularly writes about state campaign finance law. “You can do something serious enough to get referred to the AG and then have no enforcement action whatsoever? It’s really a sweet spot.”
Healey’s predecessor, Martha Coakley, took action on several cases, including in 2013, when she sued then-Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua after he didn’t file a report with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance for more than a year.
She also secured criminal convictions in at least three cases over six years, including a disgraced housing official who pleaded guilty to illegally soliciting campaign contributions on behalf of the then-lieutenant governor.
But many campaign finance cases are handled largely out of view. State regulators don’t typically publicize referrals to Healey’s office, nor does the attorney general announce when she decides not to pursue legal action.
The campaign finance office’s decision last month to refer a case against state Senator Ryan Fattman and Worcester County Register of Probate Stephanie Fattman, both Sutton Republicans, became public only after they sued to block the agency from handing evidence to prosecutors. The Fattmans and Jim Lyons, chairman of the state party, have denied breaking any laws.
Another probe was made public only because of Boston Globe reporting. The state in 2017 launched an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations by Thornton Law Firm, but Healey, a Charlestown Democrat, recused herself because the firm’s lawyers had donated to her campaign. A special prosecutor later found the firm did not violate state campaign finance laws.
Details on most other cases remain scant. Healey’s office declined to identify the four subjects who are under review. Campaign finance regulators did not publicly release evidence on any of the cases they referred to Healey, and her office has not responded to a Globe request for additional documents on the nine cases in which it took no legal action.
According to one-page referral letters Healey’s office released on the nine cases, however, campaign finance regulators said they found evidence of a number of violations.
They included allegations that candidates failed to file required reports, including Kendrys Vasquez, then a city councilor in Lawrence and now its mayor, whom officials referred in 2016, and former state Representative Carlos Henriquez, a Dorchester Democrat who was referred to Healey in 2018 following an unsuccessful campaign for City Council.
Henriquez said in an e-mail Monday that he believes he’s up to date with all reporting required by campaign finance officials. Vasquez did not respond to Globe requests for comment.
Others appeared to involve potentially more serious violations.
The campaign office twice referred Lantigua to Healey’s office, first in 2018, when it said he may have committed violations from 2015 to 2017, including improperly using campaign donations. Lantigua had run unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017. Then, in June of 2019, campaign finance regulators again sent Healey a case involving the Lawrence Democrat, saying he may have failed to make proper disclosures when he was running for state representative.
On both occasions, Healey opted to take no legal action. Lantigua — who served a single scandal-ridden term as Lawrence mayor from 2010 to 2014 and is running for mayor again this year — did not return several calls seeking comment.
Regulators said they also found evidence that a former state representative, Benjamin Swan, a Springfield Democrat, violated a series of laws from 2013 to 2017, including a statute forbidding candidates from using campaign donations for personal use and another requiring they disclose the “true source” of a donation, according to the referral letter.
Swan, a former civil rights activist, didn’t seek reelection in 2016 after more than two decades in the House, and Healey’s office said it determined no action was warranted. Swan did not return a call or text message about the matter.
Other candidates referred to Healey had a history of violations or fines.
Jason Springer, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Fall River City Council in 2017, had been rapped by regulators for using campaign funds to pay for a basketball camp that year. In 2018, they also levied $400 in fines against him for not filing disclosures.
The same year, they referred him and his campaign treasurer to Healey’s office, saying there was evidence he may have violated laws against taking corporate donations and spending donations for personal uses.
The referral indicated that campaign finance officials held a hearing with Springer before sending the case to Healey. But Springer said in a phone interview that while he was fined, officials didn’t indicate he faced “something that major.” He said he doesn’t believe Healey’s office ever contacted him.
“I don’t want to say they didn’t do their due diligence, but I don’t remember being reached out to,” he said.