New life for Patrick fund raising

Aides defend use of lobbyist as campaign coffers grow

By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / June 3, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick, trying to keep pace in a costly gubernatorial contest, is benefiting increasingly from the kind of fund-raiser whose influence he has vowed to curb: a special-interest State House lobbyist.

Sean Q. Curran, a strong Patrick supporter who promotes his lobbying business by boasting of his connections to state government, has emerged in recent months as cochairman of Patrick’s finance committee.

Curran, whose client list has included such blue-chip technology companies as IBM and Cisco Systems, has arranged gatherings at Patrick’s Milton home, where Democratic heavy hitters and corporate executives — for $5,000 a piece — get to shmooze with the governor. He has set up events at trendy Boston restaurants, where executives discussed public policy issues affecting their industries. And he is listed as a cosponsor of fund-raisers for Patrick in Atlanta and Washington.

Indeed, those who have worked with him say that Curran, a hard-charging, 39-year-old lobbyist who makes more than $300,000 each year in client fees, has played a pivotal role in putting Patrick’s finance operation into high gear after several years of relative neglect by the governor, who has said he has a strong distaste for asking for money.

In an e-mail, Curran said that he did not know exactly how much money he had raised, or how many events he has organized for Patrick, but he said he is “always honored to have a chance to help him and to bring other business people to a gathering to meet him and discuss issues of importance to the state.’’

Patrick’s campaign manager, Sydney Asbury, defended Curran’s involvement, saying in a statement that the campaign “has always been straightforward and transparent about the role all of our finance cochairs, including Sean Curran, have in helping to raise money, which ensures the public has a fair and accurate accounting of all our fund-raising efforts.’’

“Governor Patrick proposed and helped pass some of the strictest ethics and lobbying laws in the country, and these laws help to draw a bright line between the necessary raising of money for campaigns and the important work Governor Patrick does every day on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth,’’ she said.

At a Finance Committee meeting in late March, Curran, whose position with the campaign is unpaid, was singled out as Patrick’s top fund-raiser of 2010 — twice as much as the second-best fund-raiser, according to a person present at the meeting, who asked for anonymity to discuss a private event. Patrick’s fund-raising, though it still trails that of his Republican rival, has picked up. In January, the governor raised just $78,815, a paltry amount for an incumbent. In April, he raised $330,578. People close to Patrick attribute much of the surge to Curran’s more pronounced role, though it is unclear to what degree.

There is nothing illegal about lobbyists raising money for a governor, but Curran’s role as a top fund-raiser is notable because of Patrick’s self-styled political identity as a reformer who has curbed the clout of special interests. He celebrates, for example, his signing last year of tougher state ethics and lobbying laws, which his campaign website asserts makes it “harder for special interests to influence election officials.’’

“The governor is delivering real reforms that Republican predecessors only talked about,’’ his website says, asserting that Patrick has kept his commitment from the 2006 campaign to “change to the culture of Beacon Hill.’’

Curran said that he and the Patrick campaign have made no attempt to hide his role, nor his work as a lobbyist. He said he is motivated only by his belief in the governor, and does not use fund-raising to give clients access. “I specialize in the technology area because I understand the way state government procures these services, and I can help my clients prepare their bids and presentations, not because I have special access,’’ Curran said. “I don’t.’’

Still, some campaign finance reform advocates want to ban lobbyists from raising money for candidates. Common Cause Massachusetts has pushed legislation to prohibit the practice.

“Lobbyists shouldn’t be asking for favorable government action on one hand and giving or soliciting campaign contributions with the other,’’ said Pam Wilmot, the group’s executive director.

Patrick’s main rivals in the governor’s race, Republican Charles D. Baker and state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent, have also relied on special-interest money to help finance their campaigns. Baker, a former chief executive of a health insurer, has raised tens of thousands of dollars from the health care industry; Cahill has drawn criticism for raising heavily from law firms and others with an interest in treasury business.

In promoting his company, Waterville Consulting, to potential clients, Curran trumpets his ability to open doors in state government, saying on his website that he will “guide you in reaching those who are critical to your business goals.’’

Even before he took on a more prominent role with the campaign, Curran had been helping Patrick raise money. He has not been shy about linking contributions to access to the governor.

In a solicitation to a small group of technology executives for a June 19, 2007, event, Curran offered “a setting intended to generate discussion about the issues facing the technology industry in Massachusetts.’’

“Join us and share a table with nine of your colleagues and Governor Deval Patrick,’’ the invitation reads. The intimate gathering took place at Stella, a South End restaurant. The cost was $5,000 a person, and it raised about $40,000 from the eight executives who attended.

The bulk of the funds went to the Patrick-controlled state Democratic Party, and a small portion — $500 each, the maximum allowed by law — went to Patrick’s campaign committee. The party never listed the $1,300 expense for the dinner. Asked about the omission, party chairman John Walsh said it was an “in kind’’ donation from the restaurant owner. He said it was “a totally inadvertent mistake’’ not to list it, and that the party would correct its public records filing.

At the table with Patrick were executives from three of Curran’s clients, including Paul Raymond, the Northeast president for CGI, and Susan McConathy, Cisco’s account coordinator, whose firms had business before state agencies at the time. Cisco Systems was part of a $42 million deal to provide a new phone system for the health and human services offices; CGI was a subcontractor on a $98.9 million contract, then under negotiations, to provide a new computer system for the revenue department.

In his publicly filed report on lobbying activities, Curran said he worked directly on those projects for his clients. Cisco did not respond to a request for comment; Raymond said the revenue department contract was never discussed at the dinner.

Curran strongly disputed the notion that the 2007 event could be seen as the Patrick campaign selling access to the governor, and he said he had specifically instructed guests that night not to raise their firms’ interest in specific projects or contracts.

“That is absolutely not a fair or accurate way to describe the event,’’ he said. “The event was a small gathering of business people who were interested in having a more in-depth conversation with Governor Patrick about the business climate in Massachusetts.’’

Frank Phillips can be reached at

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