Update: January 30, 2014. It has been brought to my attention (thanks @dtfan579!) that the folks at Mass. Fiscal have begun to register with the Secretary of State as an organization engaging in lobbying activities. I feel deeply touched and humbled. You can read all about their lobbying here.
ORIGINAL POST: July 17, 2012
Not so long ago there was a registered Political Action Committee called Empower Massachusetts that was run by the Greater Boston Tea Party. You may have heard of Empower Massachusetts last year when it purchased billboard space urging voters to show identification at the polls during the special election for an open seat in the state House of Representatives.
The Empower folks claimed that they were simply urging passage of a law to require Voter ID, but to many in Southbridge, where the election was and where nearly one in three people is of Hispanic origin (three times the state average), it looked like an effort at election-day intimidation.
Well, it came to pass that Empower Massachusetts fell on financial hard times, and not even a September 2011 fundraiser featuring (the now late) Andrew Breitbart brought in much money. So this year, the Tea Party agreed to transfer the corporate charter of Empower Massachusetts to political allies interested in forming a new organization. Thus Empower Massachusetts, Inc. was reborn as Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, Inc. Conveniently, the two organizations share a corporate director named Bradford Wyatt.
Mass. Fiscal is less nativist and more corporate than its predecessor – its agenda is to make the state friendlier to business. More specifically, Mass. Fiscal is calling for “lawmakers to drop plans to boost the minimum wage and require that companies give workers paid sick days off.” They’re recruiting donors (they’re a 501(c)(4) charitable group and therefore not required to disclose their donors’ names) by touting their opposition to “job-killing” legislation and regulations.
Other Mass. Fiscal priorities include lowering both the sales and income taxes to five percent and that universal favorite, making state government more transparent. In the case of Mass. Fiscal, the push for transparency involves near-daily complaints that state officials are not conducting all their meetings in public, and, today, a conference call to discuss the failure of State Representative Carlos Henriquez to file his campaign finance reports on time. Mass. Fiscal Executive Director Paul Craney assured callers that his organization was motivated only by its interest in transparency. “The reason why we’re doing this is we are a good government organization.” Hmm.
While transparency is a virtue for Mass. Fiscal, it is not, apparently, one that begins at home. Organizations and individuals engaged in lobbying are required to register with the Secretary of State’s office and to report on their activities twice a year, in January and July. But, despite the fact that the primary activity of Mass. Fiscal is advocacy in the legislative and executive branches, despite the fact that they’ve described themselves in an op-ed as a “lobbying group,” despite their numerous lobbying tweets (here they are letting the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Treasurer know their opposition to a minimum wage increase and paid sick time), neither Mass. Fiscal nor its Executive Director has ever made the required filings with the Secretary of State.
So for the benefit of this good government organization, let’s review, starting with the section of the General Laws entitled “Registration of Organizations Attempting to Influence Legislation,” which applies to “any group or organization, however constituted…which as part of an organized effort, expends in excess of two hundred and fifty dollars during any calendar year to promote, oppose, or influence legislation.” The law requires the disclosure of the legislation and executive branch policy decisions that Mass. Fiscal is seeking to influence, the expenses that the organization incurred in its lobbying activities and the political contributions it made, which in the case of lobbyists are limited to $200 per candidate per election cycle.
To help them get started, here are the bill numbers of some of the “Legislative Issues” they list on their website, which they’ll have to include in their lobbying report.
Reduce the sales tax: House 2996
Reduce the income tax: Senate 1542
Increase the minimum wage: House 2291
Mandate paid sick time: House 3995
Mass. Fiscal may also want to study up on another section of the lobbying laws, the one entitled “inquiry and adjudicatory proceedings relating to alleged violations.” As Senate Minority leader Bruce Tarr once said of the state’s lobbying laws, “there needs to be transparency…and serious penalties to ensure justice will be swift and strong.”
No argument here.