Attorney General Andrea J. Campbell‘s office is negotiating a potential settlement with the Massachusetts Republican Party, its former leader, and a GOP state senator, among others, over alleged campaign finance violations, according to two people familiar with the discussions, signaling the years-long probe could be nearing a close.
Campaign finance regulators first referred evidence to prosecutors in the spring of 2021 that then-MassGOP chair Jim Lyons, as well as state Senator Ryan Fattman and Worcester County register of probate Stephanie Fattman, both Sutton Republicans, may have violated various campaign finance laws during the 2020 election, including those barring people from disguising the true source of donations.
Regulators have not publicly stated which donations they were scrutinizing, but during the timeline they identified as containing the alleged violations, Ryan Fattman made a series of rapid-fire donations from his campaign account to the state party totaling roughly $137,000. Then, the state GOP spent similar if not identical amounts to help Stephanie Fattman, his wife, in her successful reelection bid.
The Globe reported in the fall of 2021 that a grand jury had heard testimony about potential campaign finance violations by Lyons and Ryan Fattman. But then-Attorney General Maura Healey, who was elected governor last fall, took no formal action on the case before she left office, leaving the probe to her successor, Campbell.
Campbell’s office declined to comment, as did Amy Carnevale, the current chair of the state GOP. Neither Lyons nor Ryan Fattman returned requests for comment.
That Campbell’s office and several of those referred by regulators are in negotiations over a potential settlement signals that it’s being pursued as a civil matter, rather than a criminal one. It was not clear this week what any potential settlement might entail. Potential consequences could involve fines or a requirement that donations be refunded to the state.
Campbell told the Globe in February she was still “getting up to speed” on referrals to her office, but indicated that she would make public any conclusion to the probe she might reach.
“When we make a decision, I want to be thoughtful, but we of course want the public to know,” she said at the time.
State officials have not detailed the exact allegations, but the former head of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance reportedly told Ryan Fattman that he believes the lawmaker violated a rule that bars candidates from giving more than $100 to another candidate.
The Fattmans had sought a court injunction in early 2021 to block OCPF from making any referrals to the attorney general, arguing that the OCPF director pursued a biased and “illegal” investigation. They were unsuccessful, but the lawsuit effectively pushed the investigation — which would have typically been kept under wraps — into public view.
Both the Fattmans and Lyons have denied wrongdoing and cast the regulators’ probe as unfair.
Public records show six of the state party’s expenditures aiding Stephanie Fattman came in October 2020, often delivered just days after her husband cut checks to the party.
In one instance, Ryan Fattman made a $5,766.73 contribution to the state party two days before the party spent the exact amount, including the 73 cents, on campaign materials supporting his wife. In another, Ryan Fattman’s campaign made a $46,500 donation to the party — the largest single contribution the party’s state account reported receiving that year — four days before it spent $46,348 on mailers for Stephanie Fattman.
Campaign finance regulators said they found evidence that the Sutton Republican Town Committee also may have violated campaign finance laws.
Public records show in August that Ryan Fattman donated $25,000 to the town committee at a time when his brother, Anthony, was chairman and the senator himself was secretary. In the subsequent two-plus months, the committee reported making $33,253 in in-kind contributions to help Stephanie Fattman’s campaign, including canvassing and phone calls to buttress her reelection to a second six-year term.
In the wake of the referral to the attorney general’s office, Ryan Fattman began accepting donations through a legal defense fund, ultimately raising more than $219,000, according to state records. Fattman is not required to disclose how or whether he has spent any of the donations.
Lyons lost his bid for another term as party chair this January, when he was beaten by Carnevale.
The attorney general’s investigation was one of several legal entanglements Carnevale inherited. She confirmed in March that OCPF was investigating whether the state party coordinated with an outside super PAC, in a potential violation of state law, during last year’s gubernatorial election, when Republicans lost the office.
Lyons and more than 20 current state GOP committee members in August sued Carnevale and the very panel the committee members sit on, accusing the party of wrongly killing a separate lawsuit against its own treasurer.
Should the party ultimately have to pay some type of fine as part of a settlement, it would be a blow to an organization that has for years struggled to raise money and is still paying off debts from last year’s races, including for opposition research on Healey.