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In escalating drama for Massachusetts GOP, some donors say they won’t give unless the party makes major changes

MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons is pictured in this file photo.
MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons is pictured in this file photo.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/file

More than a dozen donors say they will stop giving to the Massachusetts Republican Party unless it makes major changes, writing in a letter Monday that “we have lost our remaining confidence in current party leadership.”

It’s an escalation of the MassGOP’s troubles, which have sharpened internal divisions between establishment moderates and social conservatives. And it raises questions about whether the struggling party — already facing dwindling fund-raising and vote share, not to mention a strained relationship with its top elected official, Governor Charlie Baker — can remain a viable political entity. The letter, analysts say, presents a direct threat to Chairman Jim Lyons, whose party badly needs money if it is to mount meaningful challenges in next year’s elections.

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In the letter, 16 donors not only pledged to withhold their cash if Lyons remains in charge, but even promised to raise $1 million for the party should it “reorient party leadership” and take “appropriate action to restore the Massachusetts Republican Party’s reputation.”

“The State Chair failed to denounce homophobia, used party resources to openly attack 29 of the elected Republican house members, is under investigation by law enforcement for potential campaign finance violations, and is facing calls for resignation from elected officials, past party Chairmen, and from major media outlets like the Boston Herald,” they wrote in a letter to the 80-member Republican State Committee. “Due to these events, we are no longer comfortable providing financial support to the MassGOP.”

The letter, obtained by the Globe and confirmed by five recipients, was signed by 16 people who said they have collectively given more than $900,000 “to support the party’s mission.” Many of the donors have also contributed to Democratic candidates over the years, ranging from moderate leaders at the State House like former House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo to more liberal officials like Attorney General Maura Healey. The donors are Jonathan Bush, Bill Carey, Kimberly L. Dacier, Christopher Egan, Jim Grossman, David Howe, John Kingston, Scott Lemay, Gregg Lisciotti, William McQuillan, Bob Pereira, Daniel J. Quirk, Kevin Rollins, Victor Romeiro, Ray Stata, and Jessica Tocco.

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Lemay, a Weston entrepreneur who served as chief executive officer of United Material Management, said in an interview that he did not want to support a Republican Party that made “alienating comments toward specific groups.” He said the GOP must prioritize inclusivity alongside other core values like fiscal responsibility. He has given thousands of dollars over the years to Baker and the Republican State Committee, as well as Democratic candidates, state campaign finance records show.

Long the state’s political underdog, the Massachusetts GOP has been in turmoil in recent weeks over the revelation that Deborah Martell, who serves on the 80-member Republican State Committee, made anti-gay remarks in e-mails to and about a Republican congressional candidate. She told Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette she was “sickened” that he and his husband had adopted children together.

Baker and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel both condemned the comments and said discrimination has no place in a party premised on the value of individual liberty. But Martell said at a closed-door meeting in June that she would not be “bullied” into resigning over expression of her Catholic faith, leaving the party’s leadership under pressure to respond.

Lyons acknowledged her comments were offensive but said he would not bow to “cancel culture” by calling on her to resign. Now, that stance is diminishing his standing among elected Massachusetts Republicans, even as social conservatives within the party double down on their support for him.

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The donors’ letter only worsens the forecast for a party that was already in trouble, some in the GOP said. Some party leaders said it’s been difficult to fund-raise and promote Republican candidates amid the drama.

State Representative Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk Republican who lost a race for the chairmanship to Lyons earlier this year, said he has heard a similar sentiment from other GOP donors, and worries about what the loss of funds will mean for the party’s future.

“My fear is that their boycott of party contributions may trickle down and leave them unwilling to donate to individual Republican candidates as well,” he said. Lyons has made the party vulnerable to attacks from Democrats, he said.

Campaign finance records show the party has far less cash on hand now than it did when Lyons took over in 2019. Neither the chairman nor a party spokesman immediately responded to requests for comment.

Still, Lyons has his allies within the party, including many who applaud him for refusing to more forcefully condemn Martell. Others say the party may be in trouble, but Lyons is not to blame.

“Are we in a good position right now? No, because we’re at war with each other,” said Todd Taylor, a Lyons ally on the state committee and a city councilor in Chelsea. “If conservatives win this battle for control of the party, I think we’ll be in a better position to rebuild.”

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He blamed the turmoil on more moderate members of the party, who, he said, see every scandal as an opportunity to disparage the chairman.

But for others, it has long since been time for Lyons to go.

Seven former chairs of the state party, including one who also served in the US House of Representatives and one who was Massachusetts’ lieutenant governor, wrote in a letter last month that Lyons should resign or be removed.

Still, at a June meeting of the state committee, there was no concerted effort to oust Lyons, a step that would require two-thirds of the body. Lyons still maintains enough support to stay in his post, supporters said.

In a recent letter rebuking the former party chairs who had questioned Lyons, 28 members of the state committee — just over the one-third margin Lyons requires to stay in power — wrote that Lyons “has outlined a plan for victory, and we are here to work with him to achieve it.”

Massachusetts Republicans have lost tens of thousands of voters over the last 20 years, and now represent under 10 percent of the state’s registered voters. In last year’s presidential election, Donald Trump lost the state with just 32 percent of the vote.

While Republicans struggle to win statewide, the moderate Baker has bucked that trend, winning in 2018 with a decisive 67 percent of the vote even as Massachusetts also elected progressives including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Healey.

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Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.