It’s hardly unusual for political leaders to buy opposition research about their rivals. But typically they’re digging up dirt about members of the opposing party.
Embattled Massachusetts GOP Chairman Jim Lyons spent $1,800 — including $800 in party funds — to investigate two fellow Republicans, documents and invoices obtained by the Globe show.
Lyons paid research firm the Stirm Group $800 in party funds for “oppo research” on Lindsay Valanzola, a member of the Republican State Committee, according to campaign finance records, e-mails, and a September 2021 invoice from the company obtained by the Globe on Friday. Documents show Lyons paid the same firm $1,000 for “political oppo research” on state committee member Matthew Sisk. That probe included a “background investigation” and a $500-plus expenditure for probate records — family-related matters — in Norfolk County, according to a May 2021 invoice.
According to a copy of the $1,000 check obtained by the Globe, Lyons paid the firm in July 2021 from the account of Mity Pups Inc., a corporation state records show is registered to his wife, Bernadette Lyons, and listed at the same Tewksbury address as his flower and ice cream shop, Dandi-Lyons.
Lyons and a spokesman for the party did not return requests for comment.
Valanzola and Sisk both voted for Lyons as party chair in 2019 but voted against him when he won reelection in 2021. Within a factionalized party, both are seen as members of the more moderate wing supportive of former Republican governor Charlie Baker. Lyons heads a more conservative portion of the party, which has grown bitterly divided in recent years.
The revelations come at a particularly dire moment for the state party, which faces dwindling fund-raising and minimal influence on Beacon Hill, and finds itself weaker still with Baker’s departure. Now is also a critical time for Lyons himself, who is seeking reelection as party chair Jan. 31 in a race with enormous implications for the party’s future.
For a chairman to spend dwindling party funds to investigate his own members is puzzling to say the least, and it underscores the toxic, fractious dynamic that has only escalated over the past few years in the state’s minority political party. Lyons has sued fellow Republicans and deposed others in lawsuits. Amid the chaos, the party’s governing body has not had a formal meeting in more than a year, as it could not bring together enough members to constitute a quorum.
The Globe reported this month that the party owed at least $86,000 to campaign vendors, including more than $52,000 for opposition research the Stirm Group did on Democratic Governor Maura Healey. And Lyons has been accused of violating campaign finance law by coordinating with a super PAC on that opposition research. E-mails obtained by the Globe show him communicating with Antoine Nader, chairman of the Mass Freedom Independent Expenditure PAC, in apparent violation of a state law that prevents outside PACs from coordinating with candidates or state parties.
Under Lyons’s tenure, the party has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars from its campaign accounts, some 30,000 registered Republican voters, and more than a dozen seats in the state Legislature, as well as its hold on the governor’s office. Critics say the party desperately needs new leadership if it is to succeed in elections and present a genuine counterweight to the state’s dominant Democrats. But Lyons’s backers say his hard-line stance on party principles makes him the right leader.
The latest financial records were circulated Friday afternoon to members of the Republican State Committee and obtained by the Globe. GOP Treasurer Pat Crowley, who has battled with Lyons in the past, sent the documents, including copies of the invoices and check, to fellow Republicans after discovering them as part of a review he said he was conducting of party campaign finance reports, he told committee members in an e-mail.
Crowley told Republicans he had found a “discrepancy that will require amending our filings”: an $800 payment to “Strim” in March 2022 for “IT Services.” Crowley asked the Stirm Group this week whether that payment was to the company and what services it had performed. The company sent Crowley the $800 invoice for “oppo research” into Valanzola, the e-mails show.
In an interview with the Globe, Valanzola described the research as a political attack from Lyons, who she said has been “actively working to get me off the committee” since “I stood up against him in one meeting two years ago.” She said Lyons has sought to render her ineligible to serve on the state committee by proving that she is no longer a Massachusetts resident and lives in Tennessee, where she often travels for work. The September 2021 invoice regarding Valanzola circulated to state committee members Friday lists $200 for “TN Record Checks.”
Valanzola said she lives in Wales, in Western Massachusetts. Her voter registration in Wales is active as of Friday, a review of state records showed.
The chairman of the party should use precious donor dollars to support Republican candidates and policies, Valanzola said, not be “somebody that becomes a dictator and takes over party funds and does as he pleases.”
“The fact that he’s spending party funds to research his own committee that has elected him is ridiculous,” she added.
Sisk, a longtime Baker ally, did not return a request for comment.
Emma Platoff can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emmaplatoff.