Baker returns most of lobbyist’s donation for inauguration
Governor Charlie Baker last month accepted $2,500 from the firm of a registered lobbyist and longtime ally of Vice President Mike Pence toward his inaugural celebration in January, violating a self-imposed cap intended to limit lobbyists to a fraction of that amount.
Baker advisers say they’re now returning most of the contribution from A10 Associates, a Boston-based firm run by Jess Tocco. It was part of an initial wave of nearly $240,000 in donations that Baker’s inaugural committee raked in from developers, insurers, and other deep-pocketed individuals in the weeks after his reelection victory, campaign finance records show.
A10 Associates made the contribution on Nov. 27, the same day it’s listed as registering with the state as a lobbyist for Vineyard Wind — the joint venture that won a massive offshore wind contract in May. Tocco, the firm’s president and CEO, is the lone lobbyist listed for A10 Associates in state records.
After the Globe asked about the donation Wednesday, Jim Conroy, a Baker adviser, said the committee will refund $2,300 of it, bringing the contribution to the $200 cap Baker had set for lobbyists.
Tocco did not return requests for comment Wednesday. An Indiana native, she interned for Pence when he was a US representative, and her close ties to the former Indiana governor prompted several local lobbying firms to offer her a job after the 2016 election, she’s previously told the Globe.
Her firm indicated in lobbying records that her focus for Vineyard Wind is on guiding it through the federal bureaucracy and Trump administration, including securing the “appropriate federal agency approvals.”
The Baker administration announced in May that Vineyard Wind was selected for contracts to finance an 800-megawatt wind farm in federal waters south of the island, expected to cost about $2 billion.
Baker has hailed the project as a defining part of his first four years in office, calling it a “game-changer” for how other states have pursued wind energy.
“I created an offshore wind industry off the coast of the US, through that procurement we did with our colleagues in the Legislature,” Baker said at a Globe editorial board meeting in October.
Conroy, the Baker political adviser, also provided strategic advice to Vineyard Wind.
“Jessica has been a supporter of the governor in the past,” Conroy said of Tocco, who’s given about $2,600 directly to Baker in donations or in-kind contributions since 2010. “We’re grateful for her support.”
The contribution was one of two dozen Baker’s inaugural committee reported receiving in November, totalling $238,501. Among those were six donations of $25,000 — the maximum Baker set for all contributions — including from Arbella Insurance Group; Atlantic Boston Construction; Oasis Systems LLC; Thomas DeSimone, of WS Development; and Kevin Rollins, former chief executive of Dell.
The sixth came from Stephen Muss, a retired Miami developer who told a local news outlet in 2016 that he now lives in Western Massachusetts.
Muss had never given any money to Baker or Massachusetts Republicans until late October, when he poured $43,900 into the Massachusetts Victory Committee, the joint fund-raising effort between the state and national Republican parties. Days later, he donated $5,000 to the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, and on Halloween, he gave $1,000 apiece to Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito — the maximum allowed under state law to an individual candidate — during the final stretch toward the Nov. 6 election.
Muss did not return a message left at a number listed for his foundation.
The committee also took $10,000 donations from a range of companies, including Atlantic Charter Insurance Co. Inc.; Global Companies LLC of Waltham; and Eastern Propane Gas Inc. of Rochester, N.H. An executive at the pharmaceutical manufacturer Alkermes also gave $10,000.
Cabot Carabott and Jeremy Brockmann — executives at Regional Home Care, a Leominster-based respiratory services company — each gave $10,000. Efforts to reach both were not successful Wednesday. The company reported spending $117,000 to lobby the Legislature and executive branch on “health care efforts” between 2017 and the first half of 2018, records show.
The inaugural committee is expected to field more donations in the coming weeks.
Baker’s committee has said contributions wouldn’t afford a donor any special access to the administration and that it intends to “strictly comply with both the letter and spirit of campaign finance regulations.”
Baker begun soliciting donations from individuals and corporations to fund a slate of inaugural events around his Jan. 3 swearing-in days after winning reelection, the Globe has reported.
The requests for high-dollar contributions come with promises of a “candlelight” dinner, “VIP access” to the governor’s “signature” inaugural celebration, and recognition on printed materials for the planned events, according to documents.
Aides say there is no formal fund-raising goal, and they have not provided an estimated budget. But they have said that they don’t expect the cash haul to exceed Baker’s 2015 inauguration, when he raked in $2.4 million to fund the most expensive inaugural celebration in state history. It included 22 events and drew a crowd of 7,000 at his inauguration night party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
The committee said it intends to release a slate of events for next month’s celebration soon.