While a pro-override group has raised more than $40,000 over the course of the campaign leading to Tuesday’s vote – hiring political consultants who’ve previously worked for Mayor Ruthanne Fuller — the anti-override group hasn’t disclosed how much it’s spent or who it’s raised money from, likely in violation of state campaign finance laws.
On March 14, Newton residents will vote on three ballot questions to raise taxes through overrides – a $3.5 million increase to fund construction work at the Franklin School, a $2.3 million increase for work at the Countryside School, and $9.2 million for the city’s general budget. Two ballot question campaign committees registered with the city to advocate and oppose those questions – Vote Yes For Newton is supporting a yes vote on all three, while No Override Newton is backing a no vote on all three.
Under state law, ballot question committees are required to file campaign finance reports detailing how much money they’ve received and from whom, along with how much they have spent and what they’ve spent it on, eight days before the election. But while the Vote Yes For Newton campaign filed their report on time on Monday March 6, the No Override Newton campaign had not filed their report as of Thursday, March 9.
The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance monitors those reports, and spokesperson Jason Tait said a committee that does not file a required report may be subject to fines of $25 a day up to $5,000. Traute Marshall, chair of the No Override Newton campaign, did not respond to requests for comment.
Tait said OCPF can impose fines after local election officials refer a non-compliant committee to their office, but the city Clerk’s Office, which oversees campaign finance, said it defers that reporting to other committees or residents who want to call attention to non-compliant campaigns.
“Voters should know who the leadership of the campaign is, who their supporters and donors are, and how the campaign spent money,” Vote Yes For Newton co-chair Kerry Prasad told the Beacon. “Vote Yes has been transparent and focused on presenting voters with factual information on why the override is so important to Newton and its future.”
It is unclear how much money the No Override Newton campaign raised, or who they raised it from. But they do appear to have spent funds on ads and mailings – the Boston-area news site Universal Hub ran ads for the campaign earlier in the year, and get-out-the-vote mailings from the same residential address as the No Override Campaign’s chair were sent to Newton residents.
In contrast, the Vote Yes For Newton group’s most recent report details their receipts and expenditures through Feb. 24. In 2022, the group had raised more than $16,000 and spent about $3,600 on voter databases and website development, according to campaign filings. In the first two months of 2023, the group raised an addition $27,265 from 80 donations and spent $15,548 – still leaving them at least $24,000 for the final weeks of the campaign. Prasad said the campaign plans to spend remaining funds on print materials and digital media, among other expenses.
The biggest donor throughout the campaign has been former state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who donated $2,500 in 2022 and another $2,500 in 2023 for a total of $5,000 – more than 10 percent of the $43,500 that the group has raised overall. But the biggest donors in 2023 were former investment bankers Michael Frieze of Gordon Brothers and George Krupp of the Berkshire Group, who each donated $3,000.
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and her husband Joseph, who each donated $500 to the campaign in 2022, each donated $1,500 in 2023. Robert Larner, whose wife Anne is a Newton Beacon board member, donated $500 after donating $500 the previous year.
Numerous city officials donated as well. On the School Committee, chair Tamika Olszewski donated $200, Anping Shen donated $250 and Emily Prenner donated $1,545 and was also re-imbursed $944 for frames for lawn signs. On the City Council, president Susan Albright gave $100, Alicia Bowman gave $500, Vicki Danberg and Rebecca Walker Grossman each gave $250 and Andreae Downs gave $25.
Spending to victory?
The biggest expense in Vote Yes For Newton’s most recent report was $9,430 to Connolly Printing for cards, lawn signs and direct mailers. The campaign also spent $4,000 on Castle Point consultants, a longtime Boston-based political consulting firm whose founders worked on the Democratic National Conventions in Boston and John Connolly’s mayoral campaign in Boston in 2013.
“Castle Point Partners was recommended to Vote Yes from a number of different people so we decided to have a conversation with Castle Point. It was clear from our first conversation that Castle Point was a good fit to advise the campaign,” Prasad told the Beacon. “Castle Point’s depth and breadth of experience has helped inform campaign decisions on how to best reach Newton voters and help voters make an informed decision on Election Day.”
Castle Point has pulled in more than $1.1 million in consulting fees over the past 10 years, according to OCPF, including $57,000 from current Attorney General Andrea Campbell when she ran for mayor of Boston in 2021 and $250,000 from current Senate President Karen Spilka over her political career.
But they also have numerous Newton connections – Walker Grossman paid them $3,000 for consulting work, according to OCPF, and Setti Warren paid them a total of $27,500 while mayor of Newton and during his campaign for governor. And Fuller has also used Castle Point, paying them $14,375 during her 2017 mayoral campaign.
In 2013, the pro-override campaign group Building Newton’s Future spent more than $11,000 on political consultant Chris Keohan, who has been paid millions of dollars for consulting work and was an advisor to former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s successful mayoral campaign that year. Overall, that group raised more than $72,000 from 200 donations in a successful campaign that saw all three override questions approved.
But fundraising hasn’t always equaled success. In 2008, pro-override group Move Newton Forward pulled in more than $122,000 from 300 donations while anti-override group Newton for Fiscal Responsibility raised $12,000 from 45 donors – but that override failed at the ballot box.
Dan Atkinson can be reached at email@example.com.