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Murray asks for probe of McLaughlin fund-raising

Timothy P. Murray asked state campaign officials yesterday to investigate whether Michael E. McLaughlin, former Chelsea Housing Authority chief, violated any laws while campaigning for the lieutenant governor.

Murray asked the agency to look into “alleged improprieties’’ raised in a Boston Globe story, and he vowed “to cooperate fully’’ in answering questions about McLaughlin’s role in his campaigns since the two met in 2005.

The Globe reported Sunday that McLaughlin ran a full-fledged political operation, which included fund-raising, at the housing agency for Murray and other politicians, in apparent violation of federal and state campaign and conflict-of-interest laws.

“I request that the Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigate the alleged improprieties on the part of Mr. McLaughlin,’’ Murray wrote in a letter to Michael J. Sullivan, the office’s director. A Murray spokesman said the lieutenant governor was concerned that the story suggested that McLaughlin may have coerced some donors, such as housing authority employees, into giving.

“If any of that money ended up in Tim Murray’s account, we want to identify it and return it,’’ said the spokesman, Scott Ferson.

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McLaughlin, whose activities are the subject of multiple state and federal investigations, quit abruptly in November after Governor Deval Patrick demanded his resignation amid a furor over his $360,000 compensation.

In the past, Murray denied that McLaughlin was a fund-raiser, insisting he was merely a campaign volunteer. But more than two dozen housing authority employees, politicians, and political activists said he played a much bigger role, helping to organize fund-raisers and pushing employees and Chelsea tenants to attend at least one Patrick-Murray rally, even providing buses from Chelsea to Everett.

Several employees said McLaughlin aides asked them for political contributions, including significant cash gifts, in apparent violation of federal and state law. State law allows cash donations up to $50, but the employees said they were asked for $100 in cash and their donations were not reported.

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Records show McLaughlin and Murray’s chief fund-raiser, Kellie O’Neill, have called each other 51 times since 2008, though O’Neill said the two never discussed fund-raising. State and federal law do not allow fund-raising by appointed public officials and prohibit political activity of any kind on public time or in public buildings. McLaughlin’s political efforts on behalf of Murray and other politicians may also violate the state’s conflict-of-interest law. A spokesman for the lieutenant governor yesterday said that Murray has not decided whether to ask the state ethics commission or any other agency to launch its own investigation.

Jason Tait, spokesman for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said it will conduct the review as it would “any complaint or request for a review that comes to our office,’’ adding that the office has until 2013 to investigate political activity related to Murray’s last campaign, in 2010.

While publicly downplaying his ties to McLaughlin, Murray has told confidants that the scandal over McLaughlin’s extraordinary pay kept him awake the night before his mysterious high-speed crash on Nov. 2. Murray had talked to McLaughlin several times while the Globe was preparing an article about McLaughlin’s salary, phone records show, but Murray said he didn’t know the salary until the report was published on Oct. 30.

Murray “felt betrayed; he felt played’’ by McLaughlin, said one person close to the lieutenant governor. Restless, Murray went out for an early morning drive to clear his head, crashing into a rock ledge along Interstate 190 in Sterling 42 minutes later.

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McLaughlin, 66, has long been a controversial figure who had been repeatedly investigated but never prosecuted for ethical lapses. When he was named director of the Chelsea Housing Authority in 2000, Guy Santagate, Chelsea city manager, objected, warning that McLaughlin would pull the city back into the bad old days of corruption.

Murray did not know any of this, according to his aides.

McLaughlin kept in close touch with Murray; the two have called each other 193 times since 2010. A week before the Oct. 30 Globe report that revealed McLaughlin’s salary, McLaughlin told Murray that the Globe was preparing an article and outlined his plan to counter the bad news by approaching a political consultant to write a favorable article about McLaughlin’s career.

Consultant Michael Goldman said that after the first Globe story ran on Oct. 30, McLaughlin asked him to write the column.

A few days later, Goldman described McLaughlin in the Lowell Sun as “a warrior from the old school.’’


Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com. Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.