You might expect Governor Charlie Baker’s inaugural committee to rake in donations from the health insurance industry. He once ran a health insurer, after all.
But the biggest source of funds for the Baker-Polito 2019 Inaugural Committee and its celebrations last week was the construction and development sector, not health care.
More than $300,000 came from the sector in the last two months of 2018 following Baker’s reelection, according to records filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. That number represents more than one-fourth of the $1.1 million the committee raised over that time.
The figure includes some companies that aren’t focused on real estate but have major development work, directly or through affiliates. Shoemaker New Balance, which is redeveloping an area around its Brighton headquarters, gave $25,000, as did Delaware North, owner of TD Garden. The Boston Red Sox owners, who are rolling out plans for a 5,000-seat theater next door to Fenway Park, donated $15,000.
The number grows somewhat if you include other individuals who have had projects before the state.
For example, Rebel Restaurants gave $15,000; its leader, Jon Cronin, received a crucial approval from state environmental regulators to build a waterfront condo tower in the Seaport. The total also doesn’t include the $50,000 that online retailer Wayfair’s cofounders, Niraj Shah and Steve Conine, gave. State officials awarded Wayfair $31 million in tax incentives last month, in return for a pledge to add 3,300 jobs by expanding in Boston and opening a call center in Pittsfield.
State law doesn’t cap inaugural donations, but the Baker-Polito committee imposed a limit of $25,000. Among the real estate-related donors that hit the cap: an affiliate of Cummings Properties in Woburn, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, WS Development executive Thomas DeSimone, Pappas Enterprises of South Boston, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, and WinnCompanies.
Tamara Small, chief executive of the trade group NAIOP Massachusetts, says the Baker administration has embarked on a number of pragmatic proposals to stoke economic development.
Small, whose group gave $2,500, cited the creation of a control board to oversee the MBTA’s finances and an environmental bond bill that included money to shield the coastline from the ravages of climate change. She also pointed to Baker’s ultimately unsuccessful push to get a bill passed that would have made it easier for cities and towns to loosen zoning limits, with a goal of getting more housing built. (Baker has vowed to try again this year on that one.)
Inaugural committee representatives say the gifts don’t provide special access. But they do represent a workaround, of sorts. State law limits individual donations to $1,000 a year to a candidate’s campaign committee, and companies can’t give anything at all.
But ethics changes passed by the Legislature in 2009 included rules allowing unlimited donations to special segregated accounts that can be used by politicians for inaugural festivities, legal aid, and recounts.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of the government watchdog Common Cause Massachusetts, says the change was an improvement from the old way of doing business. Before the 2009 legislation took effect, she says, these kinds of gifts were usually not even disclosed.
Baker’s friends in the health insurance industry haven’t forgotten him, either. The state’s three largest health insurers, all nonprofits, donated: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Tufts Health Plan, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, the company Baker once led.
All three gave $25,000, the maximum allowed.