Spicier Mayoral Politics in Springfield as SuperPAC Goes All in for Ramos…
UPDATED 8/27/23 7:06PM: To include details of a new OCPF filing from HLLN and for a correction to the description of Lederman’s donors. The title was also changed for clarity.
SPRINGFIELD—Since filing a pair of reports earlier this month, Hispanic Latino Leaders Now Independent Expenditure PAC (HLLN), has been busy. The SuperPAC, with a stated mission of electing Latinos and flush with cash from home care executive Cesar Ruiz, has begun to move into this year’s elections. The first target is none other than the Springfield mayoral race.
According to expenditure reports filed with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance, HLLN’s spending has principally benefitted State Rep Orlando Ramos, one of the challengers to Mayor Domenic Sarno. The full cost of the SuperPAC’s efforts is not entirely clear given the timing of filings. However, it now stretches across several media. Last week, a controversial text that called Springfield dirty went out to voters. This week HLLN began airing television ads, although not just for Ramos.
Sarno faces Ramos, therapist David Ciampi, at-large Councilor Justin Hurst and Council President Jesse Lederman in the September 12 preliminary. That election will narrow the field to two candidates.
In an interview with WMP&I after Thursday’s mayoral debate at Western New England University, Ramos disclaimed any connection to HLLN.
“Obviously, my campaign doesn’t have any involvement,” he said. “Whenever a PAC is formed, they have the right to express their opinion and whatever they want to.”
As of posting time, neither HLLN nor Ruiz had responded to a request for comment.
Last week, Masslive and BusinessWest reported on a HLLN release that stated the SuperPAC’s intention was to elect more Latinos to office in Massachusetts. Both in those reports, and on its website, HLLN stated a desire to bring elected representation in line with Latinos’ 13% share of the state’s population.
One member of HLLN told WMP&I that it had statewide ambitions. However, Ruiz, CEO of Golden Years Home Care Services, had ideas of his own, too, however.
In its August 13 report, HLLN spent a bit over $8,000, mostly on marketing and strategists. That filing did not state spending was to benefit Ramos or anybody else. Under state law, the report should designate the candidate the spending is meant to support or oppose.
Usually, a Massachusetts SuperPAC must file reports within seven business days of utilizing an expenditure for or against a candidate. (This changes to withing 24 hours if an election is nine or less days away).
On August 27, after this story originally posted, HLLN filed an additional expenditure report showing $31,744 in expenses. As with the prior reports, the new filing does clearly not designate the beneficiary. However, some entries do list a candidate that ostensibly would benefit. Among those are the spending on behalf of Ramos and Roldan originally reported in his story.
New expenses in the August 27 report include $2,200 for canvassers and $3,072 for a Worcester hotel where HLLN is holding a candidate night. The spending includes $2,987 in ads on WGGB to benefit Springfield at-large Council candidate Brian Santaniello. Another $3,640 went to Lamar Advertising, likely for billboards, and $3,765 to Univision Springfield.
Shortly after HLLN announced itself to the media early last week, it began spending on Ramos’ behalf. A text message sent to Springfield voters touted Ramos and directed them to his website. A robocall also went out, calling Ramos a good father and touting accomplishments on infrastructure. A video ad touting Ramos is now on Facebook. This week, HLLN began buying TV time for Ramos as well as for City Council candidate Norman Roldan.
Nearly all HLLN’s funds have come from Ruiz, a former Springfield School Committee member who now lives in East Longmeadow.
In an interview with WAMC’s Paul Tuthill, Ruiz still characterized his financing as a loan. Simultaneous to the August 13 filing, in which the SuperPAC clarified its $100,000 obligation to Ruiz was a donation. The technical term for HLLN is independent expenditure political action committee. This is often shorthanded as SuperPAC.
As in other jurisdictions, Massachusetts SuperPACs can raise unlimited funds to influence elections. It cannot coordinate with candidates, though. SuperPACs intervening in Massachusetts elections must follow different reporting rules than they do for federal elections.
The text message last week raised some ire on social media as residents shared it. “Springfield is #1 in crime and is now #1 dirtiest city in the state,” the text read. Amid the recent uptick in crime, most of the umbrage centered on calling the city dirty.
Indeed, when asked about the text itself, Ramos did not contest the crime part of the text, but distanced himself from the “dirtiest” line.
“That’s obviously, again, something that did not come from my campaign,” he said. “I would never call the city of Springfield a dirty city. I think that we are number one in crime. That’s not something that can be denied and we have to do better when it comes to crime.”
The SuperPAC paid for a robocall that began circulating among Springfield voters last week. It calls him a “devoted father” and asserts he is “dedicated to our seniors, veterans and creating quality city services.” It credits him with securing money for traffic safety and economic development.
The ad on Facebook and Instagram boosts Ramos as a leader and claims he has secured millions of dollars for the city. According to the Ad Library for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, an English and Spanish version of the ad with video is running. The original Spanish version of the ad (with accompanying Spanish-language video) incorrectly stated the preliminary is September 14.
In his WAMC interview which aired Monday, Ruiz would only confirm that the PAC plans to involve itself in races in Boston, Chicopee, Springfield and Worcester races. As of this posting HLLN’s website states it is endorsing Delmarina Lopez for Chicopee Mayor, Ramos for Springfield mayor, Victor Davila for Springfield’s Ward 6 City Council seat and several at-large candidates.
Jose Delgado, Edward Nunez, Roldan and, notably, Santaniello received HLLN’s support for City Council at-large. Reports HLLN filed with OCPF only imply spending for Roldan and Santaniello. A former City Councilor, Santaniello works with Ruiz at Golden Years. Absent from this list is at least one other Hispanic at-large candidate: Kim Rivera.
“We have to be very, very selective as to which candidate we support,” Ruiz told WAMC, noting the limits of even his 100 grand donation.
So far, the SuperPAC has secured nearly $5000 in TV ads backing Ramos on WGGB, before agent fees. It was not immediately clear if this is the same ad on Facebook.
Per records WGGB filed with the federal government, HLLN has reserved $3,965 before agent fees supporting Roldan, too. The SuperPAC appears to be in the process of reserving time on WWLP, the more watched of the region’s two broadcast channels. However, no ad runs are available, yet. However, the August 27 filing show $4,420 and $3,400 going to WWLP, ostensibly for Ramos and Roldan ads per notes in the entries.
As of posting time, Roldan had not returned a request for comment.
Ramos had a bit over $42,000 at the end of July. Yet, unlike his opponents, he has yet to reserve any ads on TV ahead of the preliminary.
HLLN’s support may not be without risk for candidates. In addition to the nature of its message, Ruiz’s employer, Golden Years, has faced criticism in its labor relations. In 2021, the company beat back a union drive. The Service Employees International Union local attempting to organize the company has accused it of hardball tactics.
“Golden Years workers faced an uphill battle to organize, encountering a concerted anti-union campaign led by management, which silenced workers and hurt their ability to unite together,” said Marlishia Aho, a regional spokesperson for SEIU 1199.
Neither Councilor Hurst nor Council President Lederman betrayed much consternation at HLLN endeavor into the race.
“At the end of the day, it means very little than me,” Hurst said of outside pending Thursday. “Worrying about what other candidates are doing or whatever what other PACs are in the race is almost like worrying about how much money [the mayor] brings to the table.” The latter being a reference to Sarno’s titanic fundraising hauls for a Springfield election.
Lederman also brushed off the SuperPAC and said candidates should focus on their own campaigns. Not missing a beat, he observed that he claims 300 unique donors among his donors.
“My campaign is funded by residents of the city of Springfield, and like minded allies throughout the region, who believe in my vision for the city of Springfield,” he said in an interview at his campaign after-debate party. “It’s not a race to see who raises the most money, but I think that individuals should be looking very closely at who is financing both situations like the SuperPAC, as well as donating extravagant sums of money to the incumbent mayor and individuals should connect the dots on that.”
Nor were they especially impressed that HLLN chose to denigrate the city.
“If that’s what you want to use to get votes, then by all means,” Hurst said. “I think it’s the relationships that you’re building with the residents of Springfield and who’s going to best be able to present their vision for the future of Springfield.”
Lederman said his campaign is “about bringing people together to identify solutions.”
“We have serious challenges ahead of us and we need a serious mayor who isn’t just trying to score political points,” he continued.
Neither Sarno’s campaign nor his office responded to a request for comment. Ciampi did not respond to a request for comment.