More than 30 mayoral races are on the ballot this November in Massachusetts, drawing dozens of incumbents, challengers, and other hopefuls looking to win an open seat. Yet, one person who is not running has outspent nearly all of them: former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh.
The former US labor secretary and current NHL players union chief — whose name hasn’t appeared on a ballot since 2017 — has dropped more than $240,000 in campaign cash this year, spreading donations from his mayoral account to dozens of nonprofits, sports organizations, and other groups, according to state campaign finance records. He also has continued to pay a longtime consultant to help manage what remains a sizable war chest stuffed with $4.4 million.
It’s a staggering level of spending for someone who is neither running for nor holding public office. Only Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, who is seeking a seventh term, has so far outspent Walsh this year among the more than 150 people with mayoral campaign accounts, according to state records through July, the most recent data available. Just seven people with mayoral accounts have spent more than $100,000.
In a phone interview, Walsh said none of the spending is politically driven. He no longer has a campaign office — Walsh said he closed it in the spring — and said he is happy in his new role atop the National Hockey League Players Association. (He reportedly is receiving a multimillion-dollar salary.) Many of the recipients of his donations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester, the Martin Richard Foundation, and others, are causes he’s long embraced, he said.
“If I was ever going to run for office again, the donations I’m making now have nothing to do with it,” he said. “I have relationships. This is taking an opportunity I have right now [to support them] and taking advantage of it. I’m not doing polling, I’m not making political contributions [from the account], I’m not advancing other people’s political careers for my own gain. It’s supporting organizations that need it.”
State rules allow candidates, including those not actively seeking office, to spend their war chests on a variety of expenses, so long as it’s for the “enhancement of the political future of the candidate” — a vaguely worded rule that has long afforded politicians flexibility.
It’s also not uncommon for former officeholders to sit on or spend down sizable accounts on pet causes. At the federal level, current UMass president Martin T. Meehan had more than $4.3 million in his account years after he left Congress before he turned it over to a foundation he created.
For Walsh, his remaining millions could still go toward any potential future run for local or state office, should he opt to try to return to politics. One former adviser who remains close to the former mayor said none of Walsh’s spending this year is “a reflection of him trying to position himself for a future run for office.”
That rings true for others. Jeffrey Berry, a professor emeritus of political science at Tufts University, said he sees nothing “terribly strategic” in Walsh’s spending patterns.
“I think he’s looking at a long game,” Berry said. “Right now, he seems content to remind people that he’s around.”
His account can certainly accommodate the largesse. Despite not raising any money since 2021, the Dorchester Democrat has more money on hand than any statewide or local candidate in Massachusetts, and four times that of Governor Maura Healey or Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.
Walsh has paid at least $35,000 this year to Laurie Bosio, his longtime fund-raising consultant and owner of LB Strategies, the consulting shop where Lorrie Higgins, Walsh’s partner, has also worked. Walsh declined to discuss whether Higgins is still employed there, but said Bosio’s firm helps with compliance and other logistics for the account.
To be sure, Walsh, 56, has regularly spent campaign cash since leaving City Hall. Last year, he reported about $500,000 in expenditures — not including transfers between accounts. A single $250,000 donation to the Gavin Foundation, a South Boston nonprofit that provides addiction services, accounted for half that 2022 spending total.
But the current level of spending, and the varied recipients, is notable in a year busy with mayoral hopefuls actively seeking, or trying to hold onto, office. Koch, an independent who’s facing a challenge from Quincy City Councilor Anne Mahoney, had spent nearly $357,000 by the end of July. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, a Democrat, had dropped more than $196,000 in his own reelection bid against four challengers, who’ve collectively spent slightly less than $197,000.
The next closest is Wu at $185,254, though she isn’t up for reelection until 2025. Wu has also raised the most this year out of anyone with a mayoral account, pulling in nearly $500,000.
Walsh accepted the job as head of the NHL players union in February, ending what had been a decades-long career in elected and public office and a two-year stint as President Biden’s labor secretary. But he’s never publicly closed the door to a political future.
Shortly after then-governor Charlie Baker announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2021, Walsh reportedly weighed his own campaign. He ultimately decided against running, and Healey cleared the Democratic field by the summer before easily winning the governor’s office last fall.
Walsh has since dipped back into local politics this summer, endorsing John FitzGerald in a crowded race for an open City Council seat. Walsh personally donated the $1,000 maximum to FitzGerald, as well as to Jose Ruiz, who’s among those challenging City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in District 5. Walsh was close with FitzGerald’s father, the late state Representative Kevin Fitzgerald, and Ruiz, a retired Boston police officer, was part of Walsh’s “dignitary protection team” for four years.
For now, the former mayor’s campaign spending has steered largely toward nonprofits and other organizations. Walsh has given $30,000 to Camp Harbor View, a free day camp for children living in Boston, along with $25,000 each to the Boston Athletic Academy and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester.
He has spread $10,000 donations to four organizations, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, and $5,000 to several others, among them the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Another $2,500 went to “Dorchester Baseball” and to the Martin Richard Foundation, dedicated to the Dorchester 8-year-old killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
“He’s still the neighborhood guy,” said one political consultant who has worked with Walsh. “It’s a lot of money [in his account]. It’s also not going anywhere.”