A super PAC created to back Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll’s bid for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor is wading into the little-watched race for Massachusetts government’s No. 2 role, including with the expected help of a Boston real estate investor and regular GOP donor.
Organizers of the so-called Leadership for Mass Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee filed paperwork Wednesday with state campaign finance regulators. The super PAC, according to those involved, is aiming to run television ads to buttress Driscoll’s campaign ahead of the Sept. 6 primary between her, state Senator Eric Lesser, and state Representative Tami Gouveia, an effort that could command millions of dollars and would provide an unusual show of outside money in a lieutenant governor’s race.
Among the expected backers, according to a person with knowledge of the PAC: Christopher W. Collins, the co-founder of the real estate investment company First Atlantic LLC and a prolific donor.
Collins has roots in GOP circles, including serving as the finance director for the Republican Governors Association’s Executive Roundtable, according to an online biography.
He also has a history of giving high-dollar donations to national Republicans, including the Republican National Committee, more than $58,000 to back Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential effort, and other contributions to Romney’s Utah US Senate campaign. He’s also given multiple contributions to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, including in 2011, and a $10,000 donation in 2016 to the Massachusetts Republican Party.
Collins has also spread money to prominent Massachusetts Democrats, including Attorney General Maura Healey’s gubernatorial bid, Congresswoman Lori Trahan, and Attorney General candidate Andrea Campbell. He also gave $250 to Driscoll’s campaign last month, records show.
Efforts to reach Collins on Wednesday were not immediately successful.
Joe Sullivan, a former longtime Braintree mayor, is serving as the PAC’s chair, and Keyser Public Strategies — whose partners are Will Keyser, a longtime adviser to Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, and before that, then-Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan, and Eileen O’Connor, who worked on Trahan’s 2018 campaign — is its lead consultant.
“As Mayor, Kim is a transformational leader who improves the lives of the people of Salem, and is a terrific partner and sounding board to her fellow Mayors,” Sullivan said in a statement. “As Lt. Governor, she will bring her proven brand of leadership and experience to the entire Commonwealth and will be a great partner to Maura Healey.”
An aide for Driscoll’s campaign, which is barred from coordinating with the super PAC, said it has no involvement and declined to comment on the PAC’s “structure or focus.”
“We remain 100 percent focused on growing our grassroots campaign, which has been funded by people across the Commonwealth, and building a broad coalition based on shared values and vision for our state,” said Juan Gallego, Driscoll’s campaign manager.
The PAC’s creation could play a prominent role in the race, where statewide candidates can only raise $1,000 from each person each year. Super PACs, meanwhile, can raise and spend unlimited sums.
Driscoll emerged from the state Democratic Party convention last month with the party’s endorsement, but she has also struggled to keep pace with Lesser in fundraising.
Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat who worked in the Obama White House before joining the Legislature, had nearly $1.1 million on hand at the end of June, compared to Driscoll’s $276,341. It could give the four-term senator a sizable advantage in reaching the many voters likely unattuned to the race for what once was mocked as a “useless job.”
Gouveia’s campaign has lagged the other two in fundraising and recently received $143,994 in taxpayer funds through the state’s public financing system.
The primary winner would serve as presumptive nominee Healey’s running mate in the November general election. Formally, the role of lieutenant governor has very few responsibilities. Beyond chairing the Governor’s Council — the eight-person body that vets and votes on the governor’s judicial nominees — the lieutenant governor’s only other constitutional responsibility is becoming acting governor if the governor dies or leaves office.
Lesser and Gouveia both criticized the specter of the super PAC influencing the race and keyed in on the potential involvement of Collins and his past donations to Republicans.
“This type of interference has no place in Massachusetts,” Lesser said in a statement. “Our Commonwealth deserves a Lieutenant Governor untainted by right wing special interests.”
Gouveia said the “infusion of dark money will be used to try to influence voters against our shared progressive values,” and called on Driscoll to disavow it. “Democratic leaders must be unified in opposition to the Mitch McConnell Republican Party to protect all of our rights,” the Acton Democrat said.