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Increasingly, Not Just Political Nerds Eyeing Springfield Mayoral Campaign Finance…


Auditing Springfield Mayoral race from afar? (WMP&I)

Thanks to his reelection war chest’s sheer size and robust monthly fundraising, Domenic Sarno still has the most money among Springfield mayoral candidates. Yet, his monthly burn rate has reached nearly $50,000. While spending has no doubt escalated ahead of the race’s first round, the impact is less clear. Meanwhile, his challengers have maintained a relatively even balances moving into the home stretch and the September 12 preliminary. Money is not the only campaign finance story in June, though.

Sarno raised $37,445 in June against $49,661 in expenses to end the month with $207,607 in the bank. His closet competitor in terms of cash on hand was State Rep Orlando Ramos who ended June with $50,063. The candidate who raised the most after Sarno was Council President Jesse Lederman, who raised $8,622 in June and ended with $22,771. City Council Justin Hurst ended the month with $33,211.

As the campaign progresses, though, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance has begun to quibble with campaign finance reports. The challengers have all had the occasional audit letters. Yet, the mayor’s campaign has had a steady stream of them, often for the same issues. One of three issues OCPF mentioned in a letter last month had been subject of a letter in May. That means the issue dates to April.

Since the year began, the election cycle effectively began with Hurst’s announcement on November 30, Sarno has racked up 15 issue flags from OCPF. some of this may be incidental to the much larger size of his campaign, but many issues have been repetitive.

After June numbers came in, OCPF wrote to the Sarno campaign about incomplete donor occupation information and insufficient explanations expenditures’ purpose. That July 14 letter largely notes earlier unclear or insufficient expenditures. The part of the letter requiring donor employer and occupation—or notes that show the campaign tried to secure the info—does not say which report is missing the info.

Under state law, any person who gives a campaign $200 or more must report their employment information to the campaign. The campaign then files it with OCPF.

Three expenditures clarification requests in Sarno’s candidate file that date to May and June and that the July 14 letter raised remain outstanding. The campaign has not addressed the missing employment and occupation information as of posting time.

Money can’t buy love? Maybe! But Sarn’s money can’t buy off OCPF scrutiny. (Still via Focus Springfield)

During 2023, OCPF has also sent the campaign multiple letters to clarify whether Sarno’s campaign vendors had subvendors. The most common target has been Dave Horgan’s company, Horgan Associates. Horgan is Sarno’s videographer, who has subcontracted web services and, more recently, commercial production to outside parties. Other one-off issues OCPF has raised are incomplete donor addresses and a missing certain contributions altogether. OCPF data suggest the campaigns resolved these.

Nothing like this exists among his competitors.

For example, Ramos has had four audit issues since last December. The first, from May, sought clarification that a donation was from anoter campaign (it was). The most recent issue OCPF raised with Ramos was for a missing contribution. It was actually a refund from an overpayment for the Pancake Breakfast. That was among three issues raised in a June 28 letter OCPF sent. The other two were an inquiry into subvendors—there were none—and a request for donor employment data. It is not clear that the latter was resolved, but it is possible the Ramos camp corrected it before OCPF sent the letter.

This appears to have happened with Lederman’s only recent audit letter. A donor had given more than the $1000 annual cap between two separate donations. However, the campaign refunded the donor the excess before OCPF’s letter came down. In March, OCPF sought more information about several of Lederman’s expenses. That, too, was corrected promptly.

Justin Hurst

Hurst has faced OCPF scrutiny, but nothing like the incumbent mayor has. (WMP&I)

Hurst has received five audit letters for five separate occasions of insufficient expenditure information (one was technically inquiring into whether subvending occurred). All but the most recent one, dated July 14, have resolved with report amendments. Of the challengers, only Hurst has had repeat, but this is still a fraction of what Sarno has had.

Neither Sarno’s campaign nor his campaign’s treasurer immediately returned a request for comment.

Were they of mind to do so, the Sarno campaign would have a lot to comment on fundraising. The $37,445 he raised in June included 19 donations of $1000, the maximum. Nearly all were from persons reporting addresses in or around Boston. In a lower—and more local tier—were some notables giving $500 including former mayor and judge Mary Hurley, Local 7 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors,  the executive director of the YMCA Elizabeth Dineen, and Springfield real estate brothers Keven and Brian Sears.

Available date for July shows Sarno has already raked in $71,000 with at least $50,000 in denomination of $1000. These donations of a grand are, on the whole, much more local than June’s were.

Although a sign of his campaign’s wealth, Sarno’s campaign spending nearly hitting 50 large shows strength and raises questions. Starting June 14, Sarno began paying an office manager $800 a week. The rent for the campaign office—a former Bank of America in 16 Acres—is $3000. The campaign spent another $7,500 on its pollster, DAPA Research, last month and $7,500 on a retirement home marketing company for voter identification. Nearly $1800 went to mailers. Horgan collected another $15,000 for video production, commercials and social media management.

Sarno campaign office

A view of the Sarno office in July. (WMP&I)

An expenditure clarification Sarno’s campaign filed for June showed that nearly $6,000 of work Horgan did went to a Connecticut voice actor and a New York production company. This is presumably for a television commercial Sarno will air. (Sarno has not bought airtime as of posting time). The June Horgan spending may include similar outsourcing.

The remainder of Sarno’s big-ticket spending included $1500 in refunded contributions, nearly $4,000 for using the Greek Cultural Center for his May kickoff, and various donations and charitable contributions.

Ramos had retained about $50,000 in cash on hand for several months, in part by spending little. In June, he raised $4,361 while spending only $1,933. Of that spending, $1000 was for his campaign manager’s stipend. The rest appear to be a smattering of incidentals. Ramos had a pair of $1,000 donations from a Springfield couple. Political action committees for Local 336 of the Carpenters Union—Ramos was once a union carpenter—and Local 2186 of the floor-coverers union each gave $500.

While Lederman’s fundraising was well behind Sarno’s, his cash-on-hand grew also modestly despite steady spending. After raising $8,6232, he spent $5,099 and ended last month with $22,771. He collected three $1000 checks and one $500 check in that reporting period.

Jesse Lederman

“Mm, gonna try with a little help from my 2014 friends…” (WMP&I)

Among those who gave the max was a colleague of Lederman’s from Don Berwick 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Indeed, Berwick the Obama-era head of the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid, gave Lederman $200 in June. Another lower-dollar donation of note was Noel Stookey, the Paul of the folk musical act, Peter, Paul, & Mary. The Maine resident gave Lederman $100.

Hurst raised $7,741 in June, although that may be a technical figure as it includes $2000 in redeposited donations from his parents. This is also reflected as an expenditure for June. The elder Hursts each gave their son $2000 that appeared in the May report. That means his net fundraising for June was $5,741. There were a few $500 donations, but a standout name on the list was a $200 donation from former Boston City Council and 2018 Secretary of State candidate Josh Zakim.

On the spending side, Hurst spent $14,552—including the parental redeposit—to end the month with $40,022. Among his expenditures in June were $3,750 for his campaign manager as well as $1000 for a consultant and a bit over $5,000 for campaign signs from Get Set Marketing. Most of the rest of his spending was advertising on Facebook or incidentals. Notably, Hurst also bought an ad on the Metro Record, former mayoral aide Darryl Moss’s online publication.

Therapist David Ciampi, the fifth candidate on the ballot for mayor, ended June with $117 in the bank. He raised $2,744, mostly in self-funding, and spent, 2,713. His report states most of that went to The Jay Townsend Group, which presumably is paying for Ciampi’s ads, which have been running on Facebook.