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The latest challenge for the beleaguered Massachusetts state GOP: Tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills

The outstanding debts could be another blow to current chairman Jim Lyons, a controversial figure who is seeking reelection.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Fresh off a devastating electoral defeat and facing down four years of total Democratic control on Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts Republican Party now appears to have mounting financial and legal problems, too: a pile of overdue bills, much of that money owed to an opposition research firm that party leaders hired last year to dig up dirt on Maura Healey during her run for governor.

As of late December, the state GOP owed at least $86,000 to at least two outside vendors hired for election-related services, bills that were late by more than two months, according to documents obtained by the Globe. Without prompt payment, the party faces mounting late fees from one vendor and a possible lawsuit from the other; lawyers for the latter vendor, Stirm Group, threatened to take party leaders to court if the bill for over $52,000 is not paid soon, according to the legal documents and invoices.

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“Despite these repeated demands, MassGOP has failed and refused to pay the outstanding amounts . . . or offer any proposal to resolve the matter,” attorneys wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Globe. The attorney, George Nader, added that he had been instructed to “take all necessary and appropriate action” to collect the payment.

It’s just the latest example of chaos and disarray within the state’s minority political party, whose bitter divisions have spurred lawsuits among party officials and, for the last year, made it impossible for the GOP’s governing body to even gather enough people to hold formal meetings. The most recent legal and financial challenges come just weeks before the state GOP elects its next chair on Jan. 31, in a competitive race with major implications for the party’s future.

As that election looms, the outstanding debts could be another blow to current chairman Jim Lyons, a controversial figure who is seeking reelection despite a dismal electoral record. A brash conservative who supports Donald Trump, Lyons has feuded with the more moderate wing of the party, which supported former Governor Charlie Baker. Whoever wins the race for chair will take on a floundering, poorly funded organization with dwindling donor support and, given Baker’s departure, minimal influence on Beacon Hill. Republicans hold no statewide offices and have about 30 seats in the 200-member Legislature.

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Lyons and a spokesman for the party did not return requests for comment about the overdue bills, some of which were published on Twitter this week by conservative radio host Howie Carr.

Critics of Lyons say the overdue invoices are one more reason to oust the chairman. During his four years atop the GOP, the party has lost about 30,000 registered voters, hundreds of thousands of dollars from its campaign account, and more than a dozen legislative seats. Now, critics say, Lyons appears to be leaving the party in dire financial shape. According to its latest campaign finance report, the state party had just $135,000 in its state account, funds that are needed for routine expenses including payroll and rent.

The overdue bills show that Lyons “is a horrible money manager,” said former state representative Shawn Dooley, who serves on the Republican State Committee and lost the chairmanship race to Lyons in 2021. “But more importantly, what it says is that he’s a person not to be trusted and therefore our party is an organization not to be trusted — where we don’t care about small businesses, we don’t care about these people who have given us credit and taken us on our word.”

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The Stirm Group was specifically charged with probing rumors about Healey’s romantic life, the letter said, including preparing “social media reports” on Healey, her former partner, and one other person the company said was alleged to be involved with the then-attorney general.

Larry Smith, CEO of the Stirm Group, declined to comment, as did a spokesperson for Healey.

Opposition research, the practice of digging up dirt about a rival candidate, is a ubiquitous if ugly tool of the American political system, and is routinely deployed by both Democrats and Republicans in Massachusetts. But this particular expense could present a further legal problem for the state party. According to the letter from the lawyer retained by the Stirm Group, Lyons directed the research firm to reach out to an unidentified third party to pay the bill. But by law, any contributions to the state party must be properly reported through the committee’s account. And the $52,000-plus bill far exceeds the maximum $5,000 donation an individual may make to a state party each year.

Other overdue bills were for political mailers for Republican candidates in last fall’s election, legislative contender Andrew Shepherd and congressional hopeful Dean Tran.

For direct mail advertising, the party typically serves as a go-between: Candidates pay the party, and then the party pays the vendor, an advantageous setup since the party gets a better deal on postage.

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Campaign finance records show that both Shepherd and Tran had paid the state GOP approximately the amount due for their mailers — but that the party had not passed those funds along to the vendor by the end of the year, two months after the bills came due.

Two invoices obtained by the Globe show the state GOP owed over $33,000 to the vendor, Aaron, Thomas & Associates, for political mailers. The company adds a charge to late accounts, the invoice said.

“I paid them. I told the vendor that I paid it. I don’t see there’s much more that I can do,” Shepherd told the Globe. “I am disappointed that the payment hasn’t gone out quickly.”

Asked why the GOP might be so behind on its bills, Shepherd cited only “the current dysfunction in the party.”

Representatives for Aaron Thomas & Associates did not respond to requests for comment.

Republican sources, including one familiar with the party’s direct mail process, estimated that the state GOP’s total debt far exceeds $86,000.

Campaign finance records suggest there are more unpaid bills for mail advertisements. For example, former Bristol County sheriff Thomas Hodgson paid the party more than $120,000 for mailers last fall. But the party sent far less to the printing firm used for Hodgson’s mail, records show.

Hodgson told the Globe he believed the bills had been paid late. The vendor reached out to him seeking payment, and the campaign directed them to the party, he said.

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For Lyons’s rivals, the financial woes are one more reason to vote him out.

“Our party is clearly experiencing some difficult times right now, in light of the losses that we suffered in the last election and, apparently, financial liabilities,” said Amy Carnevale, a Republican State Committee member who is seen as a front-runner in the race for chair.

But for the longtime Republican, those challenges are no surprise, she said. “I entered the race with the understanding that I would essentially be starting from scratch.”


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