A mysterious new local political group has leaned into Halloween season with a mask and some tricks—but no treat.
A new political action committee has emerged, “Newton for Everyone PAC,” that’s named after an existing group, “Newton for Everyone,” and the latter is not happy because the two are not associated.
Confusing? That may the point, given that the message the new PAC is rolling with is opposed to the message “Newton for Everyone” has been conveying for months.
Newton for Everyone is a local organization formed to support more housing and the Village Center Overlay District plan. That group published an open letter reminding the community that they do not endorse candidates and warning the community about the new PAC impersonating them.
“It’s disheartening that someone, or some group, would resort to using disinformation to confuse the public rather than engage in an honest discussion about issues that are paramount to Newton’s future,” the open letter from Newton for Everyone [the real one] reads. “We urge these impersonators to end these deceitful tactics immediately.”
So to be clear: Newton for Everyone is a group promoting the village rezoning plan, and Newton for Everyone PAC is a new political effort opposing rezoning and endorses likeminded candidates in the upcoming municipal election.
Who are they?
So who’s been playing tricks on Newton this Halloween season? Who’s cosplaying to cause chaos in next week’s City Council election?
Political Action Committees are murky, especially since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC in which the court gutted most campaign finance regulations.
The new “Newton for Everyone PAC” has launched social media accounts with the name “Newton for Everyone PAC” and is registered with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign Finance.
On the campaign finance form, the Newton for Everyone PAC mission simply reads: “To support candidates, running for city council, who support smart common sense growth initiatives throughout our city and to oppose those that don’t.”
Both the campaign finance form and the Facebook page were created on Oct. 19.
The only officer listed on the campaign finance forms is Newton resident Janine Stewart, and Stewart is listed as the person submitting the bank forms required for handling campaign donations.
The Newton Beacon reached out to Stewart and heard back from her via email Thursday night. Stewart defended the use of the name for the PAC and implied that the original, pro-VCOD Newton for Everyone group is the group lacking in transparency.
“Residents and business owners alike have come together and registered with the state a new political group ‘Newton for Everyone’ that points out that the city officials’ claims of togetherness are a farce. The signs popping up with the same slogan are nothing more than a developer backed political campaign.” she wrote. “Yet, the group with the signs that say ‘Newton for Everyone’ is not registered with the Attorney General’s charities division, Massachusetts Secretary of State office nor the Office of Campaign Political Finance, so no one really knows who is financing the signs for this pro-development group. We on the other hand have met all our legal requirements.”
Again to be clear: The original, pro-VCOD Newton for Everyone—regardless of campaign finance status or registry as a charity—was around and known for promoting the VCOD long before Oct. 19 when the new Newton for Everyone PAC was launched in opposition to it.
On Thursday, Charles River Regional Chamber President Greg Reibman—who’s been a vocal supporter of the Village Center Overlay District proposal and has collaborated efforts with the real Newton for Everyone—did not hold back his disgust.
“The fact that this group is so lacking in transparency should tell residents everything they need to know about them,” Reibman said. “Newton is about to make some very important decisions and voters deserve transparency, not sleezy tactics that mirror the worst of our national political discourse.”
The City Council Zoning and Planning Committee approved the VCOD plan last month, setting the stage for a full council vote in the coming weeks. The plan has been controversial, as it would allow taller buildings and thousands of new units in most of the city’s village centers by-right without any parking requirements.
Advocates say higher-density housing would alleviate the city’s housing crisis, revitalize the village center small businesses and help fight climate change. Opponents say it would make traffic worse and destroy the character of the village centers.
The plan complies with the MBTA Communities Act, which mandates cities and towns re-zone their MBTA station neighborhoods for higher density housing by Dec. 31.
In a related dust-up, there’s a petition on change.org calling for the “Save Our Villages” group “to immediately remove the lawn signs on display across Newton that depict a misleading and confusing image of buildings that are considerably taller than anything the Village Center Overlay proposal would allow.”
The lawn signs in question depict 8-story buildings forming a metropolis-like skyline, while Newton’s VCOD would only allow buildings up to 4.5 stories without a special permit.
Newton’s election will be Nov. 7, with early voting already underway.