When an organization has “transparency” as part of its mission statement, it should walk the walk, no? It should actually be transparent.
However, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance — which has not been shy about weighing in on political issues and candidates — has been anything but transparent about the source of its funds. And with the setting up of a separate nonprofit — a further buffer against any kind of openness — it is now headed for the hypocrites hall of fame.
MassFiscal, according to its own website, “advocates for fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability in state government.” Sure it’s a vocal conservative group, but there are items on its agenda that are beyond ideology, like support for legislative rules aimed at making the lawmaking process more open.
But when it comes to its own shop, well, that’s a whole different story.
As a recent Globe report revealed, MassFiscal is closely tethered to Fiscal Partners Inc., a nonprofit, set up in 2016, that shares an address and some of its leaders with MassFiscal and reported $826,000 in revenue in 2017 (the most recent records available), most of it ($600,925) from undisclosed dues paying “members.” Fiscal Partners in turn gave $460,000 in “targeted grants” to MassFiscal — about 70 percent of its $640,000 in contributions that year. Fiscal Partners also paid some $121,000 to Paul Craney, listed as its president, who had served as MassFiscal’s executive director and continues to serve as its spokesman.
The separate organization sets up a kind of double-blind arrangement for potential donors. It could also provide a tax break for those donating to Fiscal Partners, which is set up under the tax code as a business league, rather like a chamber of commerce. That could make those “dues” deductible as a business expense.
In fact, the state Democratic Party, which has long objected to the way MassFiscal operates, last Tuesday filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service and the state Department of Revenue, charging the arrangement appears to help “facilitate an illegal money laundering scheme” while offering donors a tax break.
Also part of the MassFiscal “family” is the Fiscal Alliance Foundation, which recently funded a poll on Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed hike in the real estate transfer tax — which MassFiscal opposes. The poll, taken by Washington-based Republican pollster Advantage, Inc., zeroed in on only four districts — those of the House and Senate leaders — and was, well, fully loaded, asking, “Do you think a Republican governor should be proposing new and higher taxes or should he be holding the line on taxes and spending?”
The foundation — along with MassFiscal founder Rick Green, who was an unsuccessful 2018 Republican congressional candidate for the Third District — also helped fund a legal challenge to the state’s century-old ban on corporate donations to political candidates.
Allowing such corporate contributions would create “a serious threat of quid pro quo corruption,” Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote in the decision rejecting MassFiscal’s argument.
But what about the corrupting effect of donations from persons unknown to a shell nonprofit that funds yet another nonprofit that has played fast and loose with election-related fliers? Those “electioneering communications” — as the Office of Campaign and Political Finance calls them — when made within 90 days of an election, can trigger disclosure of contributors.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that, in a public comment about new OCPF regulations, MassFiscal actually proposed that its expenditures for “electioneering communications” — those fliers it’s so fond of distributing — be exempt from any financial disclosure rules.
That’s pretty much the definition of political chutzpah. As if MassFiscal’s “dark money” isn’t hidden behind enough shadows already. OCPF shouldn’t be shy about using its regulatory tools to force more disclosure. And if those tools are inadequate, then it’s time lawmakers take a look at this real loophole in political campaign spending.