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Former state senator accused of unethical behavior moves toward Congressional run

Dean Tran.Sam Doran/State House News Service

Republican Dean Tran, a former state senator accused last year of using his taxpayer-funded staff for political gain, filed paperwork this week laying the groundwork for a potential challenge to US Representative Lori Trahan, a two-term Democrat.

Tran on Monday submitted a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, one of the early steps a candidate must take toward a potential congressional run.

An adviser to the Fitchburg Republican said Tuesday that Tran was exploring a run, and that he’d probably decide after the New Year whether he’ll formally launch a campaign.

Tran, first elected to the Senate in 2017, narrowly lost his seat last fall to John Cronin, a Lunenburg Democrat and an Army veteran.

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It capped a tumultuous year for Tran, who in March 2020 was stripped of his leadership post within the Senate GOP caucus and, in an extraordinary step, barred from interacting with his staff except through official e-mails after fellow senators accused him of breaking Senate rules and potentially state law.

The chamber’s Committee on Ethics said it found evidence Tran assigned his taxpayer-funded Senate staff campaign tasks, and asked them to help with fund-raising work. The expectation to help Tran’s political efforts was so great within his public office, the committee charged, Tran’s campaign manager had threatened at least one Senate staffer with being fired if the employee didn’t work on Tran’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Tran, who had been the assistant minority whip, denied the allegations and said the report was “libelous.”

Tran entered the Senate with a compelling story. He came to America as a refugee, was the first person of color to win a seat on Fitchburg’s city council, and became the state’s first Vietnamese-American senator after winning a central Massachusetts seat that had been held by Democrats for decades.

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After the Senate released its report, senators said they had also referred the allegations to state campaign finance regulators and the state ethics commission, saying Tran also likely violated state campaign finance and conflict-of-interest laws.

State law directly prohibits officials from using public resources, which includes staff, for campaign purposes.

Spokesmen for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the Ethics Commission said they could neither confirm nor deny whether they are investigating. Neither office has taken any public action against Tran.

Trahan, a Westford Democrat, first won the Third Congressional District seat in 2018, emerging from a combative 10-way Democratic primary to take the open seat.

She ran unopposed in 2020, months after the House Ethics Committee wrapped an investigation into her by dismissing allegations she had violated campaign finance laws when her campaign borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars of her husband’s money in the 2018 race.

In a unanimous decision, the committee found that although Trahan did use her husband’s money to make several large loans, she had a prenuptial agreement that gave her and her husband joint ownership of all money earned during their marriage. The infusion had included a $200,000 loan Trahan made in late August of that year that allowed her to launch a last-minute advertising blitz before the September primary.

“Congresswoman Trahan is solely focused on delivering for hardworking families in every city and town across the Third District,” Francis Grubar, a Trahan spokesman, said Tuesday. “She looks forward to making the case for why she should be rehired to continue that work.”

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The district, which skirts the New Hampshire border from Haverhill to Winchendon, will change slightly for the 2022 election as a result of the decennial redistricting process, including losing the town of Andover and absorbing Billerica. But the nonpartisan Cook Political Report still considers it a solid Democratic district, rating it 11 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.