Bielat’s out-of-state donations swell

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / October 29, 2010

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A late surge in out-of-state donations is fueling Republican Sean Bielat’s stiff challenge of 15-term US Representative Barney Frank.

Seventy-six percent of Bielat donors who gave $200 or more within the last four weeks live outside Massachusetts. That’s up from about 41 percent for the prior five-week period that ended Sept. 30, a Globe review of Federal Election Commission reports shows.

The figures suggest that Bielat, who has made regular appearances on Fox News and conservative media outlets, has succeeded in his attempts to nationalize the race for the Fourth Congressional District seat.

The Brookline resident’s recent donors include country music star Hank Williams Jr. ($1,000), New York financier Carl Icahn ($2,400, the maximum for an individual), and a number of hedge fund and investment firm executives. US Represent ative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota and a favorite of the Tea Party movement, has donated $1,000 from both her congressional candidate committee and leadership PAC to Bielat.

In addition, Arizona Senator John McCain’s 2008 political committee donated $2,000, and McCain’s Country First leadership PAC gave Bielat the $5,000 maximum last week. Bielat has also attracted money from the conservative Citizens United and Freedom Project PACs, both of which contributed $5,000.

“He’s going on right-wing news shows and talk radio and raising a lot of money,’’ said Harry Gural, Frank’s spokesman. “It’s a huge resource when you have an audience of millions of people across the country, and parts of the Fox News audience and parts of the talk radio world, who have listened to Barney being vilified for years.’’

Lisa Barstow, Bielat’s spokeswoman, said he has raised national money all along but the pace has increased as the election approaches.

“Barney Frank is a well-known figure, and there are people across the country who would like to end his career,’’ she said. “Sean’s a credible candidate, but this is really about saying ‘no’ to the policies of Barney Frank.’’

Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has long relied heavily on out-of-state money, much of it from executives in the financial sector his committee oversees. He has consistently taken in nearly 60 percent of his money from non-Bay Staters during the campaign, records indicate.

The Newton Democrat led the effort to push the massive financial regulation overhaul legislation through Congress this year.

The gusher pouring into Bielat’s coffers has allowed him to roughly keep pace with Frank’s spending in the campaign’s final weeks and forced the incumbent to pump $200,000 of his own cash into his campaign. The pattern mirrors, though to a lesser degree, the fund-raising success that aided Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the special US Senate election last January. Some of those outside of Massachusetts who are giving late to Bielat also contributed to Brown in the closing days of his campaign.

Bielat is outraising Frank by lopsided margins in small-dollar donations, mostly via the Internet. For the first 13 days of October, for instance, Bielat took in $352,069 in unitemized small donations compared with Frank’s $62,787 in small-dollar contributions, according to FEC reports. There is no requirement to identify contributors who give an aggregate of $200 or less.

Frank has relied heavily on political action committees, many in the financial services sector. In the past two months, PACs and other politicians’ committees have poured $257,000 into Frank’s campaign. On Monday, for instance, eight PACs kicked in $22,400, including two public employee unions that gave $5,000 and $2,500, respectively, the American Insurance Association and Citizens Financial Group ($2,000 apiece), and Putnam Investments ($2,500).

The Bielat campaign’s identification of its donors’ employers and occupations has fallen off in the campaign’s final days. Since Oct. 20, none of the 78 donors who gave $1,000 or more are identified by employer or occupation, the Globe found. In several instances, in the electronically filed reports, the contributor’s hometown isn’t even listed. One $1,000 donation on Oct. 18 is attributed to “re du,’’ with an address of “22 none’’ in the community of “e’’ “CT.’’ The employer and occupation are both listed as “ee.’’

Barstow said in an e-mail it was the result of a data entry and software problem caused when a campaign worker tried to delete a duplicate contribution received online.

As for the drop-off in identifying donors, Barstow said: “There is a substantial volume coming and sometimes donor info is missing from the print and online forms. We are using our best efforts to follow up and request any missing information.’’ The campaign asks twice, “but people are not required to list it,’’ she said.

Frank’s disclosure rate in recent months has been about 99 percent, according to a Globe review. The campaign’s website rejects contributions from individuals who fail to identify their employer and occupation, Gural said. “We’re scrupulous about it,’’ he said.

Brian Mooney can be reached at