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With petition drives for Baker, Mass. GOP appears to violate own neutrality rules

Associated Press/Michael Dwyer

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker waves after delivering his 2016 State of the State address, as Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, right, looks on at the Statehouse in Boston.

By Globe Staff 

The Massachusetts Republican Party is organizing nomination petition drives across the state for Governor Charlie Baker and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, in what appears to be a violation of the party’s rule that bars it from providing any resources to a candidate in a contested primary.

E-mails obtained by the Globe show the party’s grass-roots arm, MassVictory, has been setting up weekend outings all over the state for volunteers to gather signatures for the nomination papers for Baker and Polito — despite the fact there is another candidate in the GOP gubernatorial race. Scott Lively, a controversial arch-conservative minister whose anti-gay rhetoric is outside the mainstream state GOP, is now accusing the governor of “cheating’’ by using the state party to support his campaign.

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“We have made amazing progress gathering signatures,’’ Kevin McNamara, the deputy director of MassVictory, wrote in an e-mail to volunteers dated Feb. 7. “MassVictory is seeking volunteers for our Super Saturday to collect as many signatures as we can with as many volunteers we can recruit that day! We will have multiple locations around the state.”

“ . . . It would help immensely to get Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito on the ballot first,” McNamara continued, referring to getting those nomination papers certified before other candidates.

The state Republican party’s rules are clear about its involvement in primaries. They state:

“Unless two-thirds of the GOP’s party executive committee agrees, neither the State Chair nor any person employed by the State Committee, shall assist, aid, or publicly endorse any candidate in favor another candidate in . . . a contested Republican primary.”

McNamara is an employee of the state party, GOP officials confirmed. The Massachusetts Victory Committee is a federal committee that serves as a fund-raising vehicle for the state GOP.

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The Baker political team and the state party did not respond to repeated requests for comments about whether they were breaking party rules by using its resources to help the governor.

“The Massachusetts Republican Party and MassVictory are pleased to support Massachusetts Republican candidates up and down the ballot,” said the state GOP’s spokesman, Terry MacCormack.

When McNamara’s e-mail was read to him, Lively, Baker’s only declared challenger, was miffed.

The conservative Springfield minister, who launched his campaign last month, is also trying to gather the required 10,000 certified voter signatures for his nomination papers to qualify for the state primary ballot.

Lively said he was surprised to find the party is working for the governor, because party officials had assured him they would be impartial.

He compared the party’s help for Baker to the rancor that developed at the GOP convention in 2014, when conservative candidate Mark Fisher filed suit against the GOP — charging party leaders had manipulated the ballot so he just missed the delegate support threshold to run on the primary ballot against Baker.

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In 2016, the party agreed to put Fisher on the primary ballot, but it also paid him $240,000 to settle his lawsuit.

It was never determined if the state party had acted improperly.

“This is very alarming. I have been waiting to see how the Baker team will cheat this time,’’ said Lively, who ran as an independent for governor in 2014 and barely got 1 percent of the vote.

“This is a consistent pattern with Mr. Baker. I don’t see why a sitting governor with all that popularity and money would revert to cheating. It suggests an inherent character flaw.”

Baker’s team did not respond to charges from Lively, who is not a popular figure in GOP establishment circles. He is best known for his highly controversial anti-gay activities and statements in this country and around the world.

Some GOP insiders said they believe Baker’s campaign is attempting to keep Lively off the September ballot by denying him enough delegates at the April convention.

Party rules require statewide candidates to get 15 percent of the delegates to qualify for the Sept. 4 ballot.

The party-organized petition drive reflects the strong grip the governor and his political team have on the state Republican Party and their use of its financial resources, staff, and election operations.

That control has aggravated the conservative wing of the state GOP, which has been marginalized by Baker during his time in office.

In a bold and unheard of political move by a governor, Baker, according to a GOP source involved in the effort, spent over $900,000 in the 2016 elections to win a bare majority of the 80-member Republican State Committee, the party’s governing body.

Baker has refused to identify the donors, claiming he is not legally required to do so.

The Massachusetts Victory Committee, which is paying the staff, is a federal committee and is allowed to raise donations as much as $44,900 per donor — far above the state campaign finance laws that cap individual contributions at $1,000 a year.

In a ruling criticized by campaign finance watchdogs, state regulators have determined that the Baker operation does not violate state law banning the use of federal funds in state political campaigns.


Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.