Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark R. Fisher struck back defiantly at his party’s leaders Wednesday, asserting that they offered him a $1 million payoff to end his candidacy long before he filed suit against them.
As far back as December, Fisher said, a Republican State Committee member offered him $1 million in campaign funds to end his campaign against the GOP’s leading candidate for governor, Charlie Baker.
“They approached us,” Fisher told the Globe. “They were offering us money to get out of the race.”
Fisher declined to specify who made the offer, but said he would detail his accusations at a press conference Thursday.
“There’s going to be some fireworks,” said his campaign manager, Debbie McCarthy.
Fisher, a member of the Tea Party movement who hoped to challenge Baker for the nomination in September, was disqualified at the Massachusetts Republican Party’s March 22 convention, when party leaders said he failed to win enough delegate support to make the ballot.
He filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court contending that he had secured the required number of votes but was cheated out of a position on the ballot by the way the party calculated the vote count.
The Republican Party has denied his claims in court, arguing that adding his name to the ballot would be poor precedent and could allow any failed candidate to contest a loss in court.
The party officially backed off and filed a court motion Wednesday offering to put Fisher’s name on the September primary ballot if the court delays discovery until after the election.
“This distraction and the expense created by this activity is preventing the party from focusing on its true goals,” GOP lawyer Louis M. Ciavarra wrote in a motion seeking a stay of discovery and a continuation of the June 16 trial date.
The party offered to certify Fisher’s candidacy “simply to avoid this cost and distraction and without admitting any wrongdoing,” he wrote.
Even as the GOP seemed to be offering Fisher an olive branch, though, the dispute appeared to be far from over.
Fisher told the Globe Wednesday that the resolution is not satisfactory because he wants to obtain evidence that he believes will vindicate him. His lawyer filed a motion Wednesday opposing the GOP’s plan and noting that the party’s lawyer has yet to turn over any evidence, including “tally sheets” showing votes that delegates cast at the convention.
“It’s all about the tally sheets,” Fisher said. “If they have nothing to hide, show us them.”
GOP chairwoman Kirsten Hughes contested Fisher’s assertions surrounding the release of the tally sheets.
“As we have said since day one, we are certain the process was fair and there was no foul play,” Hughes said in a statement Wednesday. “Any assertion that we are unwilling to open the ballot box is patently uninformed. Since Mr. Fisher has brought us to court, there is a process to follow, and we are abiding by that.”
The conflict escalated this week after Ciavarra circulated to members of the Republican State Committee a letter to Fisher’s lawyer.
In the letter, which was obtained and reported by the Globe, Ciavarra said that Fisher had demanded $1 million to drop his case. Fisher’s lawyer, Tom Harvey, told the Globe that the figure was just a “starting point” in negotiations.
But on Wednesday Fisher maintained that he threw out the $1 million number only because that is the sum he had previously turned down.
“Now they’re trying to say that’s illegal? That’s a bribe?” Fisher said. “That’s what [they] offered us! [They] offered the bribe!”
Though he is seeking damages, Fisher said that he intended to hold out for ballot access all along and that he only cited the $1 million figure because Ciavarra kept pressing him for a number.
“Just tell him $1 million to stop him from bugging us,” Fisher said he told his lawyer.
In the letter distributed to state committee members, Ciavarra charged that Fisher’s “outrageous demand prohibited us from having meaningful discussions” toward a settlement and that “buying people off the ballot is illegal.”
Fisher also said that Ciavarra was “very concerned about the structure that any settlement that they will offer would have to take. “
“He said, ‘We don’t want the FBI investigating us,’ ” Fisher said.
Ciavarra would not speak to statements about the FBI, saying, “I’m not going to comment on private conversations.“
He said there have been settlement discussions, as there are in any lawsuit.
“I can certainly say there was never any effort to bribe or induce Mr. Fisher to leave the ballot,” Ciavarra said.
“Do some negotiations include lots of terms and discussions? Sure,” Ciavarra added. “Do they include discussions about money? Sure, they do. What’s clear is that Mr. Fisher’s demands were always and consistently rejected at the level at which he was demanding payment.”
While the two sides traded allegations of illegal bribery, though, campaign finance specialists said that nothing in the law explicitly prohibits such dealmaking. Boston trial lawyer and former state prosecutor Thomas M. Hoopes said he does not see any criminality in what the party claims Fisher was demanding.
“It feels wrong; it feels like a misuse of a really sacred right to seek office in America,” said Hoopes. “But it’s not a crime.”
The debate has become a damaging distraction for a party that occupies just a sliver of elected offices in Massachusetts and has been hoping to reclaim the governor’s seat.
Several Republican candidates face continued uncertainty over whether they will qualify for the ballot, based on their campaigns’ collection of voter signatures.
By day’s end Wednesday, the state had only received notification of 7,681 signatures certified on behalf of the Republican candidate for US senator, Brian J. Herr of Hopkinton, according to the secretary of state’s office, which keeps a tally of the ongoing count. The attorney general candidate, John Miller, had 8,406 certified. Both need 10,000 signatures to qualify.
Fisher, too, remained 1,867 short of the 10,000 threshold, according to the secretary of state’s office, making his candidacy uncertain even with the party’s offer to put him on the ballot.
The deadline closed Tuesday for candidates to submit voter signatures, but the counts could rise as city and town officials continue to certify them before next Tuesday’s deadline.