(Only) Now — Mass Fiscal Founder and Congressional Candidate Rick Green Says We Need to Invest in Transportation

Rick Green, the only Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat in the Third Congressional district, sat down with the editorial board of the Lowell Sun last week to talk about his credentials and his priorities.

The first priority he mentioned? Infrastructure, especially transportation infrastructure. Massachusetts, Green reported with alarm, now “ranks 50th out of 50 states in terms of functionally obsolete bridges.”

What didn’t come up?  How the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, an organization he founded, has contributed to our cellar-dwelling position.

Green established Mass Fiscal, as it’s known, six years ago, taking over the corporate charter of Empower Massachusetts, a voter-suppression group, and he served as its board chair until recently.  The self-described “non-partisan government watchdog group committed to holding the line against taxes,” Mass Fiscal has, in each electoral cycle, targeted 20 or so Democratic legislators and waged direct-mail campaigns against them, using inflammatory and factually-challenged accusations with nativist overtones, along the lines of: did you know that your lawmaker favors spending your tax dollars on immigrants who are in this country illegally rather than veterans who have sacrificed so much for our nation?

In the 2014 election, Mass Fiscal also supported the ballot question to repeal a law designed to raise transportation revenues by indexing our state’s gasoline tax to inflation. They supported the repeal — not because our transportation infrastructure was in fine shape without any additional funds — but only to impugn lawmakers for trying to raise taxes indirectly (and to add that “some politicians who voted for the increase also receive taxpayer funded reimbursements for their trips to the Statehouse in Boston”).  The repeal succeeded, leading Michael Widmer, then-president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, to predict that lawmakers would soon need to “make a series of very tough choices because they’re going to find out quickly enough they don’t have enough money to fund basic maintenance of roads and bridges, never mind expansion.”

Sure enough, when the House passed its annual road-funding bill earlier this month, Transportation Committee chair William Straus, observed: “There’s no question when it comes to transportation needs and the status of the roads and bridges of the Commonwealth, the need is greater than our resources. There are greater unmet needs but the resources are finite in order to take care of municipal roads and bridges and those of the Commonwealth.”

So when candidate and Mass Fiscal founder Rick Green points to transportation infrastructure as a big problem that our lawmakers have failed to solve, he sounds a little bit like the boy who, having murdered his parents, calls on the court for mercy — owing to his being an orphan.

Mass Fiscal’s New Legislative Scorecard Includes a Vote about Mass Fiscal

Our right-leaning friends at the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance are out with a new 2015-2016 scorecard tracking the votes of our state legislators for the session that just concluded.

Mass Fiscal, for those who aren’t familiar, is an advocacy group that has tax exempt status because it is “operated to promote social welfare.” What promotes social welfare, in Mass Fiscal’s view, is steadfast resistance to taxes, government spending and labor unions (often with an overtone of hostility toward immigrants that’s consistent with Mass Fiscal’s origins as a promoter of Voter ID laws).

Given these priorities, it’s not surprising that its scorecard ranks every Republican in the state legislature higher than any Democrat.  And given the uses to which Mass Fiscal puts its scorecard, it’s not surprising that questions have arisen about the tax-exempt status it enjoys and whether it should be allowed to withhold all information about its sources of income.

This self-described electoral bigfoot specializes in communicating by direct mail. Here’s a brag about their clout in the 2014 statewide elections:

Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance delivered more than 2,000,000 — that’s two million — pieces of direct mail and advocacy pieces to residents of the Commonwealth, highlighting our positions and those of lawmakers….Our campaign ran in 21 different legislative districts, with each district on average receiving 95,837 mailers.  As part of our efforts, we used a strategy known as every-door direct mail, or EDDM.  Through this method, we were able to contact as many residents and businesses as exist in the towns where we focused.

The Democratic lawmakers targeted by these direct mail efforts objected strenuously that their positions, as Mass Fiscal characterized them, were preposterously distorted. That objection was backed up by journalists including David Bernstein, who dismissed the scorecard’s claim “that certain targeted state legislators voted to prioritize illegal immigrants over veterans for public housing.” “That’s a crock,” he continued. “They did no such thing.”

Which brings us back to Mass Fiscal’s new scorecard, which includes House and Senate votes on a bill the legislature passed and Governor Baker signed this week that directly affects Mass Fiscal. The new law requires organizations that use direct mail for electioneering within 100 days of an election to disclose their five biggest donors of more than $5000, just as organizations that use paid television, internet and print advertising must do.

Not surprising that Mass Fiscal opposed the bill or that its scorecard describes the votes approving it as “deterring freedom of speech.” Whether the vote will be included in Mass Fiscal’s 2016 electioneering efforts (the new law is effective immediately) is rather doubtful, though  — only 16 of the Legislature’s Republicans (fewer than half) took their side.

 

Electioneering (I mean, public education) as practiced by Mass. Fiscal Alliance

I see that our friends at the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance have been crowing about getting under the skin of some state legislators, so I figured that they must be gearing up their “public education” activities for the election in November.

Sure enough, last week they sent out flyers in 20 state legislative districts to “target” (their word) the incumbent lawmakers in those districts. As a 501(c)(4) organization (that being the provision of the tax code under which they claim tax exempt status), Mass. Fiscal is permitted to advocate a particular point of view on an issue of public concern through lobbying and through what is called “public education.” (The law requires that public education be non-partisan, but does not require that it actually be educational.)

Mass. Fiscal’s flyer lists a number of votes the targeted lawmaker has taken in a way designed to cast him or her in the worst possible light. For example, the flyer states that the lawmaker “took the side of illegal immigrants over military veterans.” If this assertion strikes you as so inflammatory as to be implausible, you can find out more on the Mass. Fiscal website, where you can learn that a Mass. Fiscal favorite, Representative Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), once proposed that “veterans be given priority over illegal immigrants for public housing.” This idea was, scandalously, defeated by a vote of 126 to 29. If you are inclined to think that Mass. Fiscal is a GOP front group, note that the vote was on pure party lines. The 20 targeted legislators, of course, all voted the “wrong” way.

Mass. Fiscal and its right-wing legislative and media allies (in this case, the Boston Herald) do a big business in creating alarm that public benefits might be going to the wrong people.

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The vote described as favoring illegal immigrants over veterans is only one of several of that same theme on the Mass. Fiscal scorecard. Not surprising, given the organization’s nativist roots. Mass. Fiscal got its start in 2012 by purchasing the corporate charter of a group called Empower Massachusetts, whose signature issue was voter fraud and Voter ID as the remedy for fraud. This Torch and Pitchfork Caucus has succeeded in spending no small amount of the Legislature’s time each year on the xenophobic causes the caucus favors.

Let’s look more closely at that vote on veterans. Here’s the text of what was voted on:

“Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the executive office of housing and economic development shall require all recipients or any person seeking housing or assistance in any form, including vouchers, to provide a valid social security number and the housing agency is required to verify the number.”

Where’s the part about veterans, you’re asking? And a good question it is. The answer is that the bill being debated was entitled “An Act Relative to Veterans’ Allowances, Labor, Outreach, and Recognition.” In addition to being very pro-veteran, the bill was also very popular — it passed the House 155 to 0. And the vote that supposedly favored illegal immigrants over veterans? It was a vote ruling the amendment out of order because, as we just saw, it had absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the bill, which was veterans. I guess we should feel fortunate that the Legislature did not take up any bills dealing with other very sympathetic groups, like widows. Or puppies.

Mass. Fiscal’s response to the charge that its flyer is dishonest? They’re just presenting the actual voting records. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” they say.

Don’t shoot him, but do feel free to ignore him.