Democratic lawmakers on Beacon Hill, who have been seething about legal loopholes they say allow the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to try defeat their party colleagues, moved this week to force the group to disclose its top donors.
The House, on a 142-10 roll call vote, approved a change in campaign finance laws that would require advocacy groups like MassFiscal — whose nonprofit status as a “social welfare” advocacy group allows it to avoid making its funding public — to disclose their top five funding sources on campaign mailings or billboards.
The right-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which says it is merely “educating” voters on important issues, has kicked up a storm among Democrats because it has attacked incumbents with ads and mailings that the party claims include distorted allegations. MassFiscal, which strongly resists making its donor list public, and its GOP allies said their activities are a counter to the bundled union money that pours in to support Democrats.
“It is a bill that chills free speech,’’ Representative James Lyons, a Republican from Andover, said on the House floor, according to a State House News Service transcript of the debate.
“Transparency in our campaign finance and election laws is vital to the health of our representative democracy,” said Demcoratic Representative Garrett J. Bradley of Hingham. “Closing legal loopholes that could be abused in our current laws allows the public to better keep track of which organizations are contacting them during elections as well as who helps to fund them.”
The legislation now heads to the Senate.
Meanwhile, there is nothing in the works from the Democrats to require more transparency for them — such as requiring certain legislative leaders to publicly file timely campaign fundraising reports.
For example, the House and Senate Ways and Means chairs, Senate president, and House speaker to take advantage of budget deliberations to rake in thousands of dollars from special interests — but are not required to report for months later.
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.