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Marty Walsh’s campaign chest bulging with business checks

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/File

Mayor Martin J. Walsh toured a house being renovated as affordable housing earlier this month. Business interests have helped give Walsh a well-funded campaign account.

By Globe Staff 

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, relying heavily on the city’s thriving business interests, has collected more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions since the beginning of the year, a sum that has helped solidify his already dominant position in the mayoral race.

Flexing the power of incumbency, Walsh has capitalized on the city’s rapidly evolving skyline and brisk economy to nearly triple the amount his predecessor, Thomas M. Menino, raised during the same period of his final campaign, eight years ago.

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According to a Globe analysis of campaign records, Walsh sits on a war chest of almost $4.5 million, filled with donations from — among others — developers, attorneys, and real estate executives.

Walsh’s leading challenger, City Councilor Tito Jackson, raised $125,000 this year through mid-June, with about $90,000 on hand as of June 15.

“Marty Walsh has been good for business,” said Tom Keane, a former city councilor who says he is neutral in the race. “It’s kind of like betting on a horse that just won a race. You might as well bet on the horse the next time around.”

As is often the case with incumbents, Walsh has leveraged his office to gain a fund-raising advantage, with major chunks of his receipts coming from industries with high-stakes business in the city and before its governing bodies.

A Walsh spokeswoman said he “is proud to represent all of Boston’s residents. Political contributions have no bearing on decisions that he makes as the [m]ayor of Boston.”

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Across the state, sitting officeholders are also widely seen to have benefited from rising donation limits, which doubled in 2015 to $1,000 for an individual.

Further, Walsh has benefited from the city’s construction boom — a stark contrast with Menino’s final mayoral campaign, in 2009, during the throes of a recession.

Walsh, a longtime ally of organized labor and former head of the Boston Building Trades Council, has scooped up at least $120,000 this year from those who said they worked in construction and development — many of them executives.

Walsh raised more than $108,000 from supporters who identified themselves as attorneys or lawyers, an increase of 35 percent from Menino’s haul during the same time span in 2009. More than $93,000 in contributions came from those who listed their occupation as “real estate” — nearly triple Menino’s take from the same category.

Another $78,000 came from those who earn their salaries directly from the city: government workers. Since he took office in January 2014, Walsh has raised at least $400,000 from city employees.

The actual figures are probably far higher across all professions, due in part to the particulars of the campaign finance system.

For instance, schoolteachers could list either “Boston public schools” or “City of Boston” as their employer. Similarly, those who work in development could list their individual employer and an occupation that does not correspond to the search term “developer.” In one example, a $150 donor listed “executive” as his profession and “Boston Global Investors” as his employer. Boston Global Investors describes itself as a “real estate development and consulting firm.”

Walsh collected more than $37,000 from the restaurant and bar industry, which has watched keenly as the mayor has pushed to expand the number of liquor licenses in the city.

Police officers — active or retired — have chipped in over $44,000. Menino, who had a famously testy relationship with police unions, accepted a little more than $2,000 from self-identified police officers during the first half of 2009.

Menino, who was renowned for his fund-raising and close ties to the business community, had collected just over $653,000 by mid-June of 2009.

The late mayor had a brisker fund-raising apparatus four years earlier, but that haul — through almost six months — was less than half of Walsh’s this year. Walsh’s total so far in 2017 already tops Menino’s $1.6 million in fund-raising for all of 2005, the year he staved off then-city councilor Maura Hennigan.

“The economic collapse of 2008 plainly dampened down Menino’s numbers” in 2009, Keane said. “No one had money to give. You had the city at an amazing low point and the economy at an amazing low point when Menino was trying to collect money, versus Marty Walsh at a time when I’ve never seen such construction.”

Walsh’s fund-raising prowess puts Jackson at a stark disadvantage, analysts said.

“Tito’s running against an incumbent mayor, which is an inherent disadvantage, so your challenge is to make sure that people know that there’s a race and that you’re trying to make it competitive,” said Andrea Cabral, a former Suffolk County sheriff and state public safety chief who is now a WGBH radio host.

“And if you’re a non-incumbent, even if you already hold a political office, you need to make sure that message gets out, not just free media but paid media. And so you need money for that,” Cabral said.

With less than five months before the November election, Jackson so far has subsisted much more on smaller donations than the incumbent has, and his fund-raising has slowed to a drip. Through June 16, only 49 donors had “maxed out” to Jackson, who announced his bid in mid-January. Walsh listed more than 600 donors who gave $1,000, the maximum.

“The special interests are at the head of the mayor’s table, the rest of us are on the menu,’’ Jackson said Tuesday. “His contributions come with strings attached that are reflected in our runaway housing costs, cuts to our schools, our worsening opioid epidemic, and the treatment of our homeless.’’

Walsh’s campaign has spent more than $842,000 since the start of the year through mid-June, much of it on consulting and legal fees. That’s about 26 percent more than Menino shelled out during the comparable 2009 timeframe, and more than 110 percent above what the late mayor spent during the same slice of 2005.

The campaign has paid $62,000 to a Westport fund-raising consultant. Another $60,000 went to legal fees for the Boston law firm Mintz Levin. Since taking office, Walsh has paid $10,000 a month to the firm, which has represented him during a federal investigation of his administration. Precision Strategies, a Washington consulting firm, has collected $26,000, and the Boston consulting firm Dewey Square Group took in $15,000.

In 2013, when he won an open race to succeed Menino, Walsh raised over $3 million and spent nearly $4.3 million. He also benefited from $2.5 million in outside spending.

Walsh’s massive financial advantage could dictate Jackson’s strategy, Keane said, adding that Jackson must “identify the disaffected” voters and not try to match Walsh in paid media and polling. “It’s got to be a very on-the-ground, almost underground campaign,” he said. “We will not see it very visibly.”


Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports.