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Baker distances himself from letter that offers access for donations

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Governor Charlie Baker in March.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker distanced himself Monday from a fund-raising apparatus that offers special-interest groups direct access to him in exchange for political contributions, as Democrats ripped him for "a brazen strategy to trade donations for influence."

Referring to an e-mail from the state Republican Party announcing a new program designed to solicit high-dollar contributions from political action committees, Baker told reporters, "I didn't write the letter, and I didn't see the letter until it showed up in the paper."

"We're an open-door administration. We meet with all kinds of people," he said, adding, "I reject the premise that somehow we play favorites, because we don't."


Massachusetts Democrats and a government watchdog group pounced on the fund-raising methods, which campaign finance experts called legal but unusual in their overt appeals to PACs and explicit promises of a direct pipeline to the governor.

The state Democratic Party also ripped Baker for "flip-flopping," referring to his assertion days after winning the 2014 gubernatorial election that he would file campaign finance reform legislation designed to curb the fund-raising advantages enjoyed by incumbents. The governor has not filed such a proposal.

The Globe reported late Sunday that the state GOP had recently solicited donations from PACs and offered "meetings, one-on-one calls, and fund-raising events" with Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.

Pressed Monday on whether he would seek changes to the fund-raising plan outlined in the state party solicitation e-mail, Baker did not answer directly, reiterating that he had neither written nor seen the letter.

Campaign finance specialists said the plan, unusual also because it is labeled a "PAC Program," raises concerns about influence the special interests could wield over policy.

Attached to the inaugural "PAC Program" e-mail solicitation was a contribution form also encouraging individual donors to give up to $43,400 per person to the Republican Party's joint state-federal fund-raising committee, the maximum allowable under federal law.


The e-mail went out under the aegis of a group known as "MassVictory," itself something of a pioneering fund-raising entity, a joint committee registered federally between the state GOP and Republican National Committee.

The joint status allows Baker and other Republicans to solicit donations from individuals of up to $43,400, far more than is permitted under conventional fund-raising rules.

In part because of those higher contribution limits, and in part due to newly elevated state donation caps, Baker has shattered fund-raising records. During his first 14 months in office, Baker raised $3.3 million, more than his two immediate predecessors combined during comparable periods.

An early opportunity for PAC program participants comes this Thursday, when they are invited to a panel discussion at the Fairmont Copley Plaza with two top Baker advisers, Will Keyser and Jim Conroy, and two longtime aides to former governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Beth Myers and Peter Flaherty.

On Monday, Democrats used the news to try to collect some donations of their own, albeit of a significantly smaller denomination.

"We can't let a handful of super-wealthy megadonors drown out the voices of Massachusetts working families," the state party wrote in an appeal for $3 donations. "With your help, we can get the word out about Baker's latest big money scheme."

Baker aides and advisers have defended the fund-raising methods as routine. On Monday, after a meeting with legislative leaders, Baker pointed to a litany of more pressing matters that confronted him when he took office — such as budget deficits, multiple snowstorms, a mass transit system in crisis — as the reason he had not yet filed his campaign finance reform proposal.


The government watchdog group Common Cause Massachusetts also weighed in Monday, criticizing Baker and the state GOP for "[appearing] to be overtly selling access to and influence with" Baker and Polito.

"That is unacceptable," executive director Pamela H. Wilmot said in a press release. "Officeholders should not be making special deals for special interests. Fund-raising schemes like the one highlighted in the Globe inappropriately tilt government away from average citizens and should be stopped."

Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jim O'Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports. Click here to subscribe to Miller's weekday e-mail update on politics.