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Higgins joins complaint against Mass. Fiscal Alliance

By David Dore, Leominster Champion

State Rep. Natalie Higgins has joined a complaint filed with a state agency against the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a group that has targeted her with three mailings since she took office a year ago.

The Leominster Democrat, along with state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and the Massachusetts Democratic Party, filed the complaint Feb. 20 with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

No decision on the complaint had been posted to the OCFP website as of Tuesday, March 6.

According to a press release from the state Democratic Party, the complaint alleges MassFiscal illegally conceals its donors, targets only Democrats with its advocacy campaigns, and violates state election law.

The filing claims that MassFiscal, a conservative-leaning nonprofit group, is a political committee that “raises money and expends those funds for the purpose of influencing Massachusetts elections,” and therefore must disclose its donors to comply with state law. In addition, the filing states, MassFiscal is “clearly engaged in a persistent prolonged targeted effort to defeat Democratic House and Senate members.”

The OCFP previously addressed the question of whether MassFiscal can be considered a political committee. The answer was “no” in 2016 in response to a complaint filed about handbills MassFiscal distributed in Fitchburg and Lunenburg during a special legislative election between Democrat Stephan Hay (who won the election) and Republican Dean Tran (who now represents the region in the state Senate). The Aug. 3, 2016 decision notes that while the handbill referenced both candidates by name, it did not advocate for or against a specific candidate.

The decision also stated that Mass- Fiscal did not properly disclose the identity of a donor who contributed $500 for “electioneering communications.”

“We will not disclose our donors. We will not do electioneering communications. But we will still talk to voters,” MassFiscal spokesman Paul Craney told the State House News Service in September 2016. “ … We will continue to educate the public, so they can learn, think and vote.”

Since she started representing Leominster in the state House of Representatives in January 2017, Higgins has been the subject of three handbills from MassFiscal delivered to city residents.

Two of the mailings addressed her vote for a bill that adjusted the pay rates for legislative leaders, judges and state officials like the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of the state and auditor. The MassFiscal mailings claimed the bill, which passed over a veto by Gov. Charlie Baker, increased legislators’ salaries by an average of 40 percent.

In a column published by the Leominster Champion in August, Higgins said the bill “did not adjust my base pay. That is up to the governor, every two years, according to the cost of living index (a process passed by through a referendum of the voters).” She also noted the bill replaced the per diems some legislators received for traveling to and from Boston each day with additional funding for district offices and constituent services.

MassFiscal’s second mailing claimed that Higgins supports a bill, House Bill 3269, that would make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state,” a reference to jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The flyer also claimed that illegal immigration costs Massachusetts taxpayers $1.8 billion annually, according to numbers from the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Higgins took issue with both assertions in a column published last month in the Champion, a few days before the OCFP complaint was filed.

“I can say that H3269 does not meet Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ own definition of what constitutes a ‘sanctuary state’ jurisdiction,” Higgins stated.

Addressing the $1.8 billion figure, Higgins called FAIR a “well-documented anti-immigrant organization.” The Democrats’ press release on the OCFP complaint stated that FAIR has been “designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the top 50 hate groups in the country.”

“When a political group is citing an anti-immigrant hate group in an effort to influence our electoral process, it’s time for them to come clean about the source of their money,” Higgins stated in the press release. “I want our local public safety officials to focus their limited resources on local and state needs, not enforce federal civil immigration law. Their lies about the Safe Communities Act could harm public safety efforts in Massachusetts.”

Craney responded to the OCFP complaint with the following statement to the Champion: “Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance takes state campaign finance law very seriously, and as the state’s largest advocacy organization, we have a longstanding practice to work with OCPF on all our advocacy and educational campaigns before they are published.

“While MassFiscal has enjoyed a healthy working relationship with OCPF, I would be remiss if I did not mention that freedom of speech and association, our most fundamental American rights, are perpetually under attack from those who seek to use campaign finance law as a weapon. These rights are perpetually under attack from powerful politicians, bureaucrats, unions, and far-left interest groups.

“It’s folks like Eldridge and Higgins who demonstrate why our campaign finance regulations need to be crystal clear, fair, and completely objective. For Eldridge and Higgins, silencing the opposition is easier than debating important policy publicly. MassFiscal will fight unfair regulations that tip the scales for or against a particular point of view.”