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Deficits Aside, Annual Report for Latino SuperPAC Show Its Reach Broadened…

Cesar Ruiz

A statewide Cesar campaign salad… (via Hispanic Executive)

Hispanic Latino Leaders Now, the Springfield-based SuperPAC that aimed to elect more Latinos to office in Massachusetts, filed its 2023 annual report last month. The document provides additional context of the extent of the group’s ambitions, essentially fulfilling promises to operate statewide. However, echoing the group’s earlier issues, its filings appear incomplete and show it ending 2023 in the red.

HLLN filed its paperwork early last year and then went quite. As the mayoral preliminary in Springfield approached, adult care mogul Cesar Ruiz flooded HLLN’s coffers with cash. Since its preferred candidate lost, it has spent considerably outside the city. The January filing shows $222,084 in spending throughout 2023 or $62,000 above previously reported figures. The report also shows HLLN $32,000 in the hole.

The impact HLLN has had in elections is hard to fully assess. Its biggest investment—over $75,000—on behalf of mayoral hopeful Orlando Ramos, achieved little. He placed third in the preliminary. HLLN had the most success in Springfield City Council races, although it is hard to know how much HLLN affected the outcome.

The rise of a SuperPAC in Springfield has raised concerns about a shift in city politics. Despite a soporific municipal electorate, politics in Springfield is relatively stable and predictable in form if not always results. Ruiz is hardly the only well-heeled individual in the Valley. More money could alter city elections and not necessarily for the better. Yet, as local media emaciates further it may be harder for candidates, desperate to get messages out, to condemn.

That said, HLLN and its officers have assured their focus is not just Springfield. Particularly after Ramos’ flameout, that insistence looks genuine.

Indeed, it has sprinkled cash in races from Holyoke to Boston. As WMP&I previously reported, it made a play in Haverhill during a historic election that reorganized the structure of the City Council. However, HLLN spent in other cities including Chelsea, Leominster, Waltham and Worcester. As with the previously reported interventions, results from these races were mixed.

Leominster City Hall

The new report shows HLLN made a play to influence who populates Leominster City Hall. It didn’t pan out. (via wikipedia)

From a campaign finance point of view, the latest filing raises several questions. SuperPACs—the vernacular for independent expenditure PACs—are not supposed to run deficits. Practically speaking, they cannot. You cannot obtain campaign services without paying for them. More likely, somebody else gave HLLN money. Its last cash infusion–$40,000—came from Ruiz on October 20.

The annual report shows over $62,000 in expenditures outside what it had disclosed as of its last filing in November. Although that may overstate the spending, and thus the deficit, to some extent. For example, at least one transaction—billboards plugging Ramos—appears twice: as an expenditure and as a refund.

Neither HLLN’s spokesperson nor its officers responded to a request for comment.

While much of the spending occurred in the last few months of 2023, some items in the year-end report were from earlier. This is because while HLLN files with the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance, it does not need to report all expenditures until the end of the year. For example, a SuperPAC does not need to report expenses that it cannot attribute to any specific candidate it supports or opposes.

SuperPACs that wish to intervene on behalf of or against candidates who file with the state—which includes nearly all mayors and larger cities’ city councilors—must file reports with OCPF. That includes reports filed within 7 days—or 24 hours if the election is less than 10 days away—of any expenditure affecting a state-filing candidate. HLLN also spent in races for candidates that only file campaign finance reports with local officials. Those expenditures would only show up in the group’s year-end report.

Jonathan Paz

HLLN had their eye on another mayoral hopeful out east: Jonathan Paz. (via Twitter/PazforWaltham)

It does not appear that HLLN always met these obligations. For example, Ramos was not the only mayoral candidate HLLN supported last year. It also spent $500 on Jonathan Paz, a now-former Waltham City Councilor who challenged the incumbent mayor. Being a mayoral candidate, he had been a state filer. Yet, HLLN did not file a 7-day report nor flag the spending such that it also appears on Paz’s OCPF file.

Likewise, the year-end report show HLLN spent on Katia Norford and Jose Rivera, candidates for Worcester City Council and state-filers. There is no other record of the $500 expenditure.

By contrast, HLLN spending on candidates in Chelsea, Holyoke, Leominster, and Worcester School Committee do not require additional reporting. No School Committee candidates in Massachusetts file with OCPF. Only council candidates in cities with populations over 65,000 need to file with OCPF. If a candidate is not filing with OCPF, it is filing with local city (or town) clerks.

For example, it spent $500 on Eladia Romero, an unsuccessful Leominster City Council candidate, and $250 on Kelly Garcia, who won an at-large Council seat in Chelsea. In neither case did HLLN need to file anything extra.

OCPF will likely request corrections from HLLN if the group does not correct them itself. Its earliest filings suffered similar or worse mistakes. However, the group was seemingly on the straight and narrow when it filed its Haverhill expenses in November. There were some errors, but HLLN even disclosed spending for a School Committee candidate.

Despite the additional money drops here and there throughout the commonwealth, Western Mass still received disproportionate attention. While the amounts vary dramatically, more candidates for office in Holyoke benefited from HLLN’s largesse than in any other city save Springfield.

Notably, the Paper City expenditures were all incumbents facing opposition and had the backing of the Holyoke Forward-Palante PAC, although there is no obvious connection to that. The exception to this was Janelle Mojica, who had Forward-Palate’s backing, but was running—unsuccessfully—in an open seat. Several candidates were Latino and others were not. (HLLN has insisted that while its mission is to elect more Hispanics, it would support non-Hispanics who support issues of importance to its namesake demo).