Suburbs contributing to Senate candidates’ coffers

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / December 6, 2009

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When it came to writing checks, Newton was tops for Coakley and Capuano. Brookline covered Khazei. Pagliuca did swell in Wellesley. And Wrentham gave to Brown, the hometown candidate.

Those communities boast the area’s deepest pockets for candidates vying to fill the US Senate seat left open by the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, according to a Globe analysis of campaign finance records.

Head-to-head fund-raising comparisons among the candidates are problematic, and all figures listed should be considered approximate. Some information came from the US Federal Election Commission website, which only includes people who gave $200 or more, while other information came directly from the candidates, which was more complete and included small donors. Contributions into November were included.

Four Democratic candidates and two Republicans are facing off in Dec. 8 primaries for their respective party nominations. The winners will compete Jan. 19.

Attorney General Martha Coakley had her best showing in the western suburbs in Newton, Brookline, and Needham, where she raised $179,000, $118,000, and $99,000, respectively. Statewide, Coakley has raised more funds from individuals than any other candidate.

US Representative Michael Capuano raised the most cash in Newton ($63,000), Wellesley ($53,000), and Brookline ($51,000).

Alan Khazei, the cofounder of City Year, raised the most funds in his hometown of Brookline, which shelled out $129,000 to his campaign. He raised $69,000 in Newton and $67,000 in Weston, his next two strongest towns in the area.

Stephen Pagliuca of Weston, a co-owner of the Boston Celtics, is largely self-funding his campaign, transferring more than $5.4 million of his own money to his campaign coffers. Among his Democratic rivals, he has raised the least from individuals, about $561,000.

His best contributor in the area was Wellesley, whose residents gave $43,000 to his run. His neighbors in Weston came in second at $29,000, and Brookline was third on his list with $11,000 in contributions.

The common point for all four Democratic candidates was Brookline, which came as no surprise to Cindy Rowe, chairwoman of the Brookline Democratic Town Committee.

“Brookline is a town of many lawyers and people who are politically involved,’’ she said. “People move to our town and stay in our town because they enjoy that kind of community involvement. It’s a very vibrant political town, and this campaign I think really brought out the best of that.’’

The short campaign amped up the excitement level, too, said Rowe, who is not supporting any particular Democratic candidate. Residents are wearing buttons, making telephone calls, and hosting events for all of the Democratic candidates, she said.

“Because of the compressed time that was involved, people had to really work hard for their candidates, they had to work hard to distinguish their positions,’’ Rowe added.

Brookline also had the distinction of hosting the first event where all four candidates appeared together, on Columbus Day, she said.

Coakley and Capuano both started with a base in Brookline, as did Khazei because he lives in town, said Rowe.

But Pagliuca has made an effort, too, even though he didn’t have a natural base in town, she said.

All four candidates also did well in Newton, which was fourth in contributions for Pagliuca.

“Newton is a pretty activist community and a very generous community when it comes to political donations,’’ said Max Goldsmith, chairman of the Ward 1 Democratic Committee in Newton.

He said from his vantage point it looked like Coakley was the first candidate people noticed.

“I guess I would say she was the front-runner even before Senator Kennedy died,’’ said Goldsmith. “Her organization was in place.’’

Capuano was soon on her heels, and now Goldsmith said he has noticed slightly more signs for Capuano than Coakley around the city.

Goldsmith said he is supporting Khazei and has also watched his popularity grow. But Pagliuca’s campaign has been quiet, he said, at least in Newton.

“I get ‘robocalls’ from his campaign, he’s on radio and TV all the time, but I never got the sense that he was in need of a lot of fund-raising,’’ said Goldsmith. “He’s pretty much self-funding his campaign and hasn’t made a lot of effort in Newton.’’

Republican Scott Brown’s opponent in the primary is Jack E. Robinson III, a lawyer who was once his party’s nominee against Kennedy. Robinson’s campaign finance report lists no contributions from individuals.

Brown’s top contributing town in the area was Wrentham ($22,000), followed by Needham ($16,000), and Wellesley ($14,000).

Brian Curley, chairman of the Needham Republican Town Committee, said Brown’s success in Needham isn’t due to a concentration of Republicans in town but is related to his solid support in what is one of the larger towns in his Senate district.

Although Needham is a politically active town, Curley said there hasn’t been a lot of campaign activity yet.

“I think we’ll see it once the primary is held and we have two candidates,’’ said Curley, who supports Brown. “I think it’s going to become much more active in Needham and everywhere else.’’

Wellesley was a solid donor for all four Democratic candidates, but unlike Newton and Brookline, it was also important for Brown.

Wellesley is a community of strong political activism, according to Victoria A. Budson, a former chairwoman of the Wellesley Democratic Town Committee and currently executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“Where there are other communities that are as well-to-do that aren’t as politically active, Wellesley really has a tradition of people being informed on the issues,’’ said Budson, a Wellesley resident who is supporting Coakley.

Wellesley has residents who, regardless of political party, can envision “a better future and they want to participate in the creation of that future,’’ she said. “Making political contributions and investing in a candidate that has the same vision as you do is one way to do that.’’

Matt Carroll of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Lisa Kocian can be reached at