If you live in the Third Congressional District, check the fine print on that campaign flier that just landed in your mailbox. The smiling candidate on the front may not have actually sent it.
Long absent from the crowded 10-Democrat race, outside groups have begun bombarding voters with direct mailers and digital ads as part of a combined $281,000 spending spree just days before Tuesday’s primary.
The late-race blitz has, so far, benefitted just a handful of candidates, with some political action committees plucking photos directly from their campaign websites to use in slick mailers touting their promises on health care and equal pay.
And the vast majority of the spending — nearly $227,000 — has landed inside the last week, according to campaign finance reports.
But even in a race awash in fund-raising, campaign finance experts cite a clear benefit to the late push from outside groups: Avoiding disclosures. The PACs identify their donors in monthly reports, but complete filings aren’t submitted until late the next month — meaning the full scope of their backers won’t be clear until weeks after the hotly contested primary.
“They wait until the last minute when very little can be investigated about where the money is coming from,” said Maurice Cunningham, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “It can’t be identified and relatively little can be made of the fact that it’s outside money — which people don’t like.”
So far, PACs have lined up to help three candidates in the Third District: Rufus Gifford, the former US ambassador to Denmark; state Representative Juana B. Matias, of Lawrence; and state Senator Barbara L’Italien, of Andover.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC and Equality PAC, both of which support LGBTQ candidates, have together spent more than $159,360 in the last two weeks on digital ads and campaign mailers backing Gifford.
The $85,000 that the Victory Fund spent on its ads marks the most money it has put toward a candidate this election cycle, according to data tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics.
One digital spots asks voters to “Stand for Change,” and includes split images of Gifford and former President Barack Obama; Gifford served as finance director for his 2012 reelection campaign.
Dean Lieberman, a Gifford spokesman, said that the campaign didn’t coordinate with the groups, which candidates are barred from doing under federal law. Both have also publicly endorsed him.
“That said, of course we welcome and support the mission of electing more LGBT members of Congress in general, and electing Rufus in particular,” he said.
Matias, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic as a child, has gotten help from the Latino Victory Fund as well as VoteVets, which spent $86,008 on canvassing literature and on multilingual mailers calling Matias “An Advocate For Us,” and touting her support of the Affordable Care Act. VoteVets reported receiving $325,242 in donations this year from the House Majority PAC, a Democrat-aligned super PAC.
And a group known as the Middle Class Values PAC has poured $31,603 into mailers for L’Italien, including one describing her as a candidate who “understands the health care challenges working families face in our community.”
The super PAC, which lists a post office box in Washington, D.C., as its address, has drawn support from organized labor, including the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California and the California Nurses Association, both of which donated $25,000 in the spring.
Mailers advocating for Matias and L’Italien also include photos pulled directly from their campaign websites, where they promote links providing dozens of high-resolution pictures.
Federal election law prohibits the republication of a candidate’s materials by independent spending groups. But if it’s a photo that’s in “the public domain already, then the prohibition likely does not apply,” said Trevor Potter, an attorney and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
George Flynn, a Matias spokesman, said the campaign has never coordinated with any outside groups. “But we know that the more people hear about Juana and her story, the more they get excited about her historic candidacy,” he said.
L’Italien’s spokesman said the campaign promotes the photos so “anyone who wants to help has access to them without it being a hassle.”
L’Italien touted the support of an array of groups in a statement, saying they’re lending support in “whatever way makes the most sense for them, and I’m honored to have them standing with me.”
Beyond Gifford, Matias, and L’Italien, other Democrats running include Jeff Ballinger, a former labor activist; Alexandra Chandler, a naval intelligence analyst; Beej Das, a hotel executive; Leonard Golder, a Stow attorney; Dan Koh, the former chief of staff to Mayor Martin J. Walsh; Bopha Malone, a bank executive; and Lori Trahan, who runs a consulting firm. The primary winner will face Rick Green, the lone Republican vying for the seat.
So close to Tuesday’s primary, the concentrated push could multiply its impact on Democrats and independents still toying with whom to support, according to those who’ve studied PAC spending.
“Especially with 10 candidates, even a very faithful and observant voter is going to walk in there and not know half the names. It can help provide some name recognition right at the end,” said Doug Spencer, a University of Connecticut law professor.
“Part of what this last-minute rush can give is a sense that this candidate is much more organized,” he said. “If [voters] see a flashy mailer in their mailbox, it gives the impression that this person has a big supporting cast.”
Reach Matt Stout at firstname.lastname@example.org.