A state grand jury has heard testimony about potential campaign finance violations by the head of the Massachusetts Republican Party and a Republican state senator, according to a person who received a subpoena and spoke before the panel.
That person — as well as another source who spoke to a different witness who appeared before the grand jury — said the probe appears focused on MassGOP chairman Jim Lyons, state Senator Ryan Fattman, and his wife, Worcester County’s register of probate, Stephanie Fattman.
In April, campaign finance regulators told prosecutors in the attorney general’s office that the Republicans might have violated campaign finance laws. The work of the grand jury would mark an escalation in the probe and suggests that state authorities are pursuing it as a criminal matter.
Although the full scope of the grand jury’s work was not immediately clear, the witness who testified said it grew out of the referral sent to the attorney general’s office earlier this year, which pointed to a number of potential campaign finance violations during 2020.
The Globe also reviewed a subpoena provided by the witness, which was issued by the attorney general’s office in early September, and called the person to testify on a matter referred to only as “a John Doe Grand Jury Investigation.”
Grand juries are charged with determining whether prosecutors have gathered enough evidence to merit a criminal indictment in a case. The proceedings are confidential.
During the 2020 election cycle, when both he and his wife were on the ballot, Ryan Fattman made a series of rapid-fire donations from his campaign account totaling over $136,000 to the state party. The GOP quickly spent nearly the exact same amount of money, in similar if not identical increments, to help Fattman’s wife in her reelection bid. Public records show 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.
Regulators did not publicly state which donations they were scrutinizing, but the donations fall within the timeframe in which state campaign finance regulators say the Fattmans, Lyons, and others may have violated campaign finance laws, including those barring people from disguising the true source of donations.
There are no legal limits on how much Ryan Fattman could donate to the party from his campaign account, or how much the party could spend to aid another candidate. But campaign finance officials said earlier this year that Ryan Fattman 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.
Earlier this year, both the Fattmans and Lyons denied wrongdoing and cast the regulators’ probe as unfair. Fattman told the Globe earlier this year that candidates can make unlimited contributions to a party committee, at which point they lose control over how those funds are used.
“I didn’t tell the party how it must spend my donations, and the party didn’t make any promises to me,” Fattman said in April.
Neither the Fattmans nor Lyons returned requests for comment Monday. Earlier this year, Lyons called the referral by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance a “blatant political hit job.”
In the past few months, Ryan Fattman has raised $76,000 in a legal defense fund, records show.
The office of Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, confirmed earlier this year that the matter was “under review” but did not indicate whether prosecutors would pursue criminal charges.
Spokespeople for the attorney general declined comment Monday.
Earlier this year, campaign finance regulators also said they found evidence that the Sutton Republican Town Committee, which is led by Ryan Fattman and another family member, may have violated campaign finance laws.
Public records show that in August of 2020 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 was not clear whether those donations are being probed by the grand jury.
In early February, the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance issued the Fattmans a notice of intent to refer an investigation into them to prosecutors. The couple sued in March to block that and were ultimately unsuccessful. The Fattmans argued that regulators had pursued a biased and “illegal” investigation and had refused to turn over all the evidence against them.
Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed reporting.