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Walsh raised $1.5m in first year, setting high bar for rivals

Mayor set to break mark on donations

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has already raised more than $1.5 million, campaign finance records show.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh has already raised more than $1.5 million, campaign finance records show.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, maximizing his new power and influence in his first year in office, is poised to break the annual fund-raising record for an incumbent Boston mayor.

Campaign finance records show Walsh has already raised more than $1.5 million, an amount that nearly eclipses the high mark for his predecessor, Thomas M. Menino, whose top year was 2009, when he faced his toughest reelection campaign.

The new mayor’s fund-raising prowess sends a clear message to potential challengers by underscoring the power of incumbency in Boston, where a sitting mayor has not lost an election in 65 years.

“The idea of taking up all the oxygen in the room so nobody else can breathe is not a bad strategy. Money is like oxygen,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston who served on Walsh’s transition team.

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Since January, Walsh has raised more than twice what all 13 councilors have received, combined. He may be three years from an election, but Walsh has vastly outraised any other elected official who lives in Boston, including Secretary of State William F. Galvin, members of the Legislature, and US Representative Stephen P. Lynch.

In an interview, Walsh said his fund-raising team has had a “very good year” and he described the haul as “testament to people approving” of his administration. Walsh rejected a suggestion that his swelling campaign coffers would scare off competition when he is up for reelection in 2017.

“When people get reelected, it’s based on their performance,” Walsh said. “The people in the neighborhoods don’t care what I have in the bank. If they don’t see me and know I’m working hard for them, they’re not going to vote for me.”

Campaign contributions have poured in from a variety of donors: real estate moguls, firefighters, developers, police, restaurant owners, teachers, executives, plumbers, physicians, bankers, and dentists, records show.

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Municipal employees who work for Walsh have contributed at least $97,000. Donors who identified themselves as lawyers have given at least $126,000. Owners of construction companies, car dealerships, bakeries, and other businesses have donated a total of at least $80,000.

“It’s no surprise,” said Ed Jesser, a longtime Boston political consultant who worked with unsuccessful challengers and City Hall’s longest serving chief executive. “The one thing I learned is the mayor is the king.”

Through Monday, Walsh had deposited $1,510,184 in his campaign account, according to bank reports on the website of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The tally left Walsh $8,169 shy of Menino’s 2009 record.

Raising $1.5 million when individual donors can give a maximum of $500 is impressive, said Jeffrey M. Berry, a Tufts University political science professor. Roughly two out of three individual donors contributed the maximum $500.

On Monday, Walsh’s campaign coffers had a balance of $950,000.

“He’s building a fortress with his campaign money, and he’ll continue to raise more money over the next couple of years,” Berry said. “By the time we roll around to election time, he’s going to have an unassailable treasury and make it extremely difficult for any challenger to defeat him.”

Walsh’s fund-raising apparatus has events scheduled through the end of the year. In the first two weeks of December, he deposited nearly $219,000, records show. Walsh and his longtime girlfriend, Lorrie Higgins, hosted a holiday fund-raiser Dec. 3 that drew hundreds to the State Room, which offers a panoramic view of Boston atop a downtown skyscraper.

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Higgins’s role with Walsh’s campaign has grown significantly. On Wednesday, she hosted a “Women for Walsh” breakfast fund-raiser at the Omni Parker House. “Standing room only,” one attendee tweeted.

After last year’s mayoral race, Higgins took a job with LB Strategies, a fund-raising consultant run by Laurie Bosio. Walsh’s campaign has paid LB Strategies at least $155,000 this year, records show.

“I’m not Laurie Bosio’s only client,” Walsh said, adding that Bosio and Higgins are friends. “Lorrie [Higgins] does some of the compliance stuff on my stuff, but it’s mostly working for Laurie Bosio on other things.”

Last year, Walsh raised $2.8 million during his bid for mayor, buoyed by scores of unions, which can contribute up to $15,000, far more than the $500 limit for individuals. This year, Walsh has not relied on organized labor.

Walsh’s unrelenting pace is a reality of modern politics, when raising money for the next contest begins the day after an election, Watanabe said.

“He’s not standing pat. He’s not assuming that he’s going to have the same kind of run that Tommy Menino had,” Watanabe said.

Walsh said he has paid off several hundred thousand dollars in debt from last year’s mayoral race. Records show that campaign expenses this year include $1,200 for flowers and sympathy baskets, $13,000 in charitable contributions, $500 worth of Bruins tickets, $170 for a bike and accessories for Little Miss Dorchester, and $50 for candy for an Easter egg hunt.

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“I don’t think anybody likes fund-raising, but I’m very happy with the year we’ve had,” Walsh said. “It’s not my main focus as far as being mayor of the city of Boston. My main focus is working on behalf of the residents.”


Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.