Mayor Martin J. Walsh received $1.4 million in private donations for his inauguration and transition as he swept into City Hall, with most of the contributions coming from corporations, developers, lobbyists, and others who do business with the city.
Conscious that the festivities would set a tone for his new administration, Walsh established limits. He used no tax dollars for the January inauguration, and he barred money from political action committees and organized labor, although unions hosted a private reception for the new mayor at an inauguration night gala.
The new administration suggested a cap of $25,000 for donors and voluntarily disclosed all contributions and expenditures when requested by The Boston Globe. In an interview, Walsh said that it did not pose a conflict to accept money from companies with interests before the city and that he did not “make one phone call” soliciting donations.
“Honestly, if you asked me today to name five people who gave money for my inauguration, I couldn’t tell you. And that’s a true story,” Walsh said. “I’m going to base my mayoralship on what’s right for the people of Boston, and I’m not going to compromise it for anything or anybody.”
Critics suggested that the issue was not just the money. Big donors got special access to Walsh. The inaugural gala had an exclusive reception separate from the main ballroom. A VIP room was set up for friends, family, and donors who gave at least $15,000. A Walsh spokeswoman said that the inaugural gala became a free-for-all and that no one was barred from the VIP room. A Globe reporter was not able to gain access to the VIP room.
Some government watchdogs lauded Walsh for releasing the list of contributors and expenses but said his maximum donation level was set too high. A $25,000 check from a developer or company needing permits or other approvals from City Hall can give the appearance of a quid pro quo, said Pamela Wilmot, executive director of government watchdog Common Cause Massachusetts.
“Every inaugural has the same issue,” Wilmot said. “It creates a political climate where the wealthy and influential do very well and average citizens lose out.”
Top donors to Walsh’s inauguration and transition included Related Beal, a major real estate firm and developer building a complex at Lovejoy Wharf that will include headquarters for Converse Inc., 100 residences, retail stores, and a public park. Robert L. Beal, the company’s president, said its $25,000 contribution was “absolutely not” an effort to curry favor with the administration.
“I don’t look at it as a political contribution,” Beal said. “I look at it as helping Boston celebrate the transition.”
Another top contributor was Comcast, which gave $25,000; a lobbying firm that represents the cable giant donated $5,000 more. As mayor, Walsh has regulatory control over the rates Comcast charges for basic cable. In a statement, Comcast said that as with previous inaugurals, the cable giant “is just one of many companies that contributed to the mayor’s inaugural fund.”
Walsh also received $25,000 from Telecommunications Insight Group, a government relations firm. The firm’s clients include Verizon; Van Wagner, an outdoor advertising firm that sells space on Hubway bicycle sharing stations; and Commonwealth Ventures, a developer building two hotels across from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
Paul C. Trane of Telecommunications Insight said his firm donated because he has known Walsh for 20 years.
“We represent some large corporations, so I’m sure at some point we’ll have some interaction with the administration,” Trane said. “But this is really about as a friend and an adviser, you want the term to start off in the right way.”
Governor Deval Patrick faced criticism in 2007 when he raised $1.9 million for his inauguration, mostly from corporations, law firms, developers, and others who do business with the state. Walsh raised $133,600 to pay for his transition and almost $1.3 million for the inauguration, which included three days of events and was likely the most expensive inauguration in Boston history.
“It does raise the question both for the governor and the mayor: Do inaugurations really have to be that lavish, requiring that amount of funds?” said Samuel R. Tyler, who served on Walsh’s transition and is president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofit institutions.
Walsh said his inaugural “wasn’t extravagant” but was a fitting celebration for Boston’s first new mayor in 20 years. Nearly 8,000 people attended both the inaugural and the evening gala, Walsh said, giving campaign volunteers a chance to commemorate what they had accomplished.
“I think it’s important for the position of mayor, whether it is Marty Walsh or someone else,” Walsh said. “Assuming I get reelected, the next inauguration will probably be much smaller scale. But this is the first time in 20 years.”
Records from former mayor Thomas M. Menino’s first inauguration in 1993 are no longer available, the Globe has reported. In 2005, when Menino won his fourth term, he raised more than $500,000 from 65 donors to pay for an inauguration that included a gala at the Boston Public Library.
Almost 1,400 donors contributed to Walsh’s inauguration. But nearly two-thirds of the cost was covered by just 54 contributors. Fifteen donors gave the maximum $25,000, including seven developers, real estate firms, or institutions with major projects in Boston; a liquor distributor based in Randolph; and a company run by Dennis Kraez , who also operates Super Duck Tours sightseeing.
“The last administration was very good for the city, but if you didn’t happen to be one of his favorites, it could be a problem,” said Kraez, who added he has not met the new mayor. “There was a change. We wanted to recognize the change and congratulate Marty.”
Other donations included $10,000 from McDermott, Quilty & Miller, a law firm with a specialty representing clients seeking liquor licenses. A $10,000 contribution came from the Boston Red Sox, whose principal owner, John W. Henry, is owner of The Boston Globe. Another $5,000 came from Donoghue, Barrett & Singal, a legal and lobbying firm whose clients have included the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Association, McDonald’s restaurants, and the International Council of Shopping Centers. McDermott, Quilty & Miller and Donoghue, Barrett & Singal did not return messages seeking comment. The Red Sox declined to comment.
Matthew A. Cahill , executive director of the Boston Finance Commission, said Walsh’s inauguration marked the ascent of Boston’s first new mayor in two decades and people deserved an opportunity to celebrate. The administration wisely did not use taxpayer money, Cahill said, and was right to disclose all donations and expenditures.
“Making sure it’s public knowledge keeps everyone more honest,” said Cahill, whose commission is an independent city watchdog. “There should be extra care taken to make sure there is no quid pro quo.”
Events included a youth summit, a brunch for seniors, an interfaith service at Old South Church, a swearing-in ceremony at Boston College, and an inaugural ball at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. Thirty people were on the inauguration’s payroll, many of whom worked on Walsh’s campaign and have since joined him at City Hall.
The inaugural committee spent $242,500 on food for the inaugural ball; $130,000 to pay BC for use of Conte Forum for the swearing-in; and hundreds of thousands of dollars for entertainment, event planners, and other costs.
Colette Phillips, a public relations executive, was paid $19,200 to produce the inauguration’s youth summit. In March, Phillips honored Walsh as a “diversity game changer” at a gala. Phillips said there was no connection between her pay from the inauguration and the award for Walsh.
Walsh earned recognition, Phillips said, because he diversified the police command staff and hired people of color to three top city positions.
“The mayor got that award because of what he did in the first month,” Phillips said.
Like most new mayors, Walsh created a transition committee. The transition raised $133,600 from 22 donors. The Boston Foundation contributed $25,000 and gave $5,000 to the inauguration. The other $25,000 donor was Patrick J. O’Sullivan, owner of Perfectionist Painters, a painting company in Brighton. Walsh said he did not know O’Sullivan, who did not respond to a call seeking comment.
The city spent roughly $30,000 on office space for Walsh’s transition team, and the private donations paid salaries and covered costs for consultants and public meetings.
The paid staff included roughly 12 people, more than half of whom worked on Walsh’s campaign and joined the city payroll when Walsh took office Jan. 6.
Andrew Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.