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Two Democratic statewide candidates get public funds for campaigns

According to state officials Monday, two Democrats running for statewide office received significant taxpayer cash for their campaigns through the state’s public financing system. The system offers some public funds to statewide candidates in return for agreeing to limits on spending.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Two Democrats running for statewide office received a significant infusion of taxpayer cash into their campaigns through the state’s public financing system, state officials said Monday.

Quentin Palfrey, one of the three Democrats running for the state’s open attorney general’s seat, received $165,412, while state Representative Tami Gouveia, who is running in the three-way primary for lieutenant governor, got $143,994, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The funds would more than double what either had in their campaign accounts at the end of June. They’d also have the ability to access more public funds ahead of the Sept. 6 primary, depending on how much money they raise.

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Massachusetts’ public financing system offers some public funds to statewide candidates in return for agreeing to limits on spending. The money comes from taxpayers who voluntarily divert $1 to the program from the state income taxes they owe.

State campaign finance officials said that roughly $1 million is available overall, which would be evenly split for candidates between the Sept. 6 primary and the November election.

Three other statewide candidates besides Palfrey and Gouveia had initially joined the program, though two — Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl and his running mate, Leah Allen — later said they wouldn’t accept any public money. The other, Republican attorney general candidate Jay McMahon, doesn’t have a primary opponent, thus is ineligible to receive public funds for his primary race.

But the spending limits that the candidates agreed to can be flexible. If a candidate’s opponents do not join the program, a participating candidate is then only limited to spending up to their opponents’ self-imposed maximum.

None of Palfrey or Gouveia’s primary opponents ultimately opted in, and in Palfrey’s case, he’s now capped at spending $12 million — a huge sum for a down-ballot primary race — after one of his opponents, Shannon Liss-Riordan, submitted that as her self-imposed spending limit. Gouveia is capped at $5 million.

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The state’s complex public financing system is set up so that gubernatorial candidates get public funds first, with surplus money going to other statewide candidates until it runs out.

Initially, Diehl, the former lawmaker now running for governor, decided to join the program, which would have made him eligible to tap into hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds.

But the next day, he said that neither he nor Allen, a lieutenant governor candidate, would take any public funds and that he opted in as “a strategic decision to try to limit the role of outside money” in the race, even though the program doesn’t place limits on super PAC or other forms of outside spending. Diehl and Allen ultimately did not submit the required paperwork showing whether they hit a certain threshold in his fund-raising to receive public funds, according to Jason Tait, an OCPF spokesman.

That meant funding was available for Palfrey and Gouveia, both of whom have been outraised by their opponents this year.

A spokesman for Palfrey, who ended June with $135,284 in his campaign account and had raised about $320,751 this year before receiving the taxpayer financing, said the public funds “coupled with our strong fund-raising well positions our campaign to communicate with primary voters.”

“Our campaign is fueled by a grassroots effort that reaches every corner of the Commonwealth,” Joe Caiazzo, a Palfrey spokesman, said in a statement.

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Palfrey won the state party’s endorsement at its June convention, narrowly topping former Boston city councilor Andrea Campbell on a second ballot. Campbell, a former Boston city councilor, has raised more than $1.1 million so far this year, while Liss-Riordan has loaned her campaign $500,000 of her own money, making up the bulk of the $721,000 she’s raised this year, according to state campaign finance data.

Gouveia ended June with less than $56,000 on hand and had raised about$192,000 this year before getting the public funds. State Senator Eric Lesser, meanwhile, had more than $1 million at his disposal to close last month, while Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, the party’s endorsed candidate, had $276,341 on hand.

Gouveia said the public funds will “allows candidates like me, a social worker and organizer, to spread our message further.”

“Elections should not be about who has the most corporate donations or who knows the most max donors, but instead about who will fight for everyday people every single day,” Gouveia said in a statement. “Public financing is good for democracy and good for Massachusetts.”


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