Despite ethics bill, lobbyists carry on

Fund-raisers still a key resource for politicians

Lobbyists are scheduled to hold a benefit today for Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray. Lobbyists are scheduled to hold a benefit today for Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray.
By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / June 25, 2009
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Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray is scheduled to glad-hand his way through a room full of State House lobbyists and their clients at the offices of a Beacon Street lobbying company today, hoping to pick up a sizable bundle of campaign donations for his campaign committee.

And because the Legislature decided not to ban lobbyists from raising political funds for politicians in the ethics bill it is poised to approve, Murray can do it without a single pang of hypocrisy.

The Murray fund-raiser marks an awkward juxtaposition as Beacon Hill prepares to pass the first significant ethics overhaul in Massachusetts in a generation.

As Murray pockets campaign contributions from lobbyists, Patrick, a half block away at the State House, will be combing through the details of an ethics bill that the Legislature is expected to pass today. Patrick will also head their ticket in next year’s reelection campaign.

Patrick had demanded that the package include major changes to campaign finance laws. The Senate was pushing to ban lobbyist donations. The House wanted a study committee to consider how regulators could prohibit lobbyists from soliciting funds.

Among the items that hit the cutting-room floor were proposals to toughen restrictions on the kind of lobbyist-sponsored fund-raiser that is being thrown for Murray today.

The event is being sponsored by two lobbing firms, Morrissey & Associates and The Moynihan Group.

Murray declined to comment, but Michael Cohen, his political adviser, said: “We play by the rules. If the rules get changed, we will play by the changed rules.’’

The fund-raising breakfast is being held at Sean Morrissey’s office on the 11th floor of 6 Beacon St., where he heads a firm that represents the drug firm Eli Lilly and Internet powerhouse Google.

Sean Moynihan, founder and principal of the Moynihan group, touts his firm as a lobbying outfit, although it has not registered with the secretary of state’s office. Neither Morrissey or Moynihan responded to calls yesterday.

Current law caps a lobbyist’s donation to a candidate at $200 a year. A lobbyist cannot give more than $12,500 in donations overall in one year. But lobbyists can solicit and host fund-raising events, as long as they do not personally collect the checks and hand them to the candidate.

Patrick, who will have access to Murray’s fund when they run as a team next year, would not comment, according to his spokesman Joseph Landolfi.

As incumbents, Murray and Patrick have been able to stuff their political accounts full of donations from registered lobbyists and their clients, as have the Legislature’s leaders. Despite the $200-a-year restriction, lobbyists are able to raise tens of thousands of dollars by hosting fund-raising parties where their clients can socialize with officeholders and write checks to their campaign committees.

In their first year in office, Murray and Patrick had raised more than $1.4 million in combined campaign contributions, much of it from the special interest groups that the two had denounced as having too much influence when they ran in the 2006 election.

Last year, Murray turned to Robert M. Platt, a State House lobbyist and Republican fund-raiser, for help in building a campaign finance network. Platt had supported Patrick’s 2006 opponent, Republican Kerry Healey. He also supported former governor Mitt Romney’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Globe reports about Platt’s controversial business background led to his ouster from Murray’s finance team.

The lawmakers also rejected efforts by Patrick aides to lower the limit on donations to state political parties from $5,000 a year to $500, a change that could have dealt a serious blow to Charles D. Baker, the Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare president who is widely considered the most serious potential Republican challenger to Patrick’s reelection bid. The change would create a serious hurdle to Baker’s efforts to raise much-needed funds over the next year in conjunction with the financially strapped GOP state committee, which can financially back his campaign.

A senior Patrick administration official confirmed that the governor’s aides were pushing to lower the level for party donations, while Republican lawmakers lobbied heavily to keep the $5,000 donation level.

In turn, the Legislature tweaked Patrick by blocking his use of a campaign finance loophole that has allowed him to skirt the $500 annual contribution limits for individuals.

The compromise bill adopted a Senate provision that would prohibit his use of a special committee for which he can raise $5,500 donations from individuals, splitting it between his committee and the Democratic State Committee, which then picks up much of campaign costs.