Lida Harkins vs. Peter Smulowitz Campaign Controversy over Lobbyist Funding

Dr. Peter Smulowitz

The Democractic primary race between Peter Smulowitz and Lida Harkins is getting a little heated.

The Smulowitz Campaign has been making an issue of Harkins campaign contributions – that Harkins has taken contributions from 3 indicted former speakers.

Then at the April 5th State Senate Debate in Needham, Harkins accused Smulowitz of “gutter politics”. And Smulowitz responded:

Nothing we have said is misleading. It is all factual. The simple fact is that my Democratic opponent took campaign money from three separate speakers who were indicted, and that’s not bad enough, the money wasn’t given back after they were indicted. That is only a fact.

The issue has not died down. Smulowitz has continued to send out mailers which level this accusation. And in recent days the campaigns have gone back and forth about this accusation. So today Smulowitz offered a resolution to the controversy. In a press release April 8th, Smulowitz said:

There is a simple resolution to this [controversy]. Lida Harkins should return, today, the money or, better still, contribute the money to a local charity. When Lida does this the matter will be closed.

Lida Harkins

But Harkins has refused to give the money back, and replied in her own statement:

The real controversy here is that the Smulowitz campaign has made public statements and distributed two printed pieces containing false information, and that they then had to issue a retraction of some of those facts.

We’ve now heard that the printed piece they distributed may contain an illegal use of the Seal of the Commonwealth.

Whoa. Crazy. Illegal use of the Seal of the Commonwealth? The Smulowitz campaign merely reproduced a public campaign financing document showing Harkins funding sources.

It would be one thing if they were plastering the seal of the commonwealth on their literature to appear like an endorsement. But there is nothing illegal about reproducing public documents. And so the Smulowitz campaign replied:

Surely no one thinks that this law prohibits reproduction of publicly available campaign finance documents, and we reject these tired smear tactics.

MassBeacon has more of the blow by blow in todays exchange of statements.

But the question remains, who is right? These are easy facts to check, we can just look at public campaign finance documents. Here are the latest financing reports:

(MassBeacon has an analysis of these financing reports also.)

Peter Smulowitz Campaign Financing

Lets go with the simplest first.

Smulowitz has been funded primarily by donations from private individuals. If there is any anomaly it’s the large number of donations from physicians, and a significant portion coming from Newton, which is outside the district. But these are mostly small contributions from individual voters.

Lida Harkins Campaign Financing

Harkins statement is much more interesting.

First, is Smulowitz right? Has Harkins taken contributions from indicted former speakers? The answer is yes. I see contributions there from Robert Finneran, and Charles Flaherty.

Should she be taking these? It’s up to voters to decide, but both of these former speakers are now lobbyists.

Robert Finneran is a lobbyist for among other things GTECH Corporation, a company that makes gambling equipment. See the filing here.  And they are lobbying for the passage of the gambling initiative, H4068.

Charles Flaherty’s main client is Hall Properties, a land developer tied to the Suffolk Downs race track, who is also lobbying for the passage of the casino bill.  See the filing here.

Voters should know that Harkins was once an opponent of casino gambling, and has now become a supporter, all while receiving contributions from lobbyists from the gambling industry. It’s how insider politics works.

But this is not the complete story on Harkins recent contributions from lobbyists. She is also taking money this year. Here they are and what interests they represent:

  • Paul Caron – NAWD, a tobacco distributors lobby
  • William Coyne – Altria, RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Cigar Association
  • William Delaney – Altria, RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Greyhound Racing
  • Maryanne Lewis – Greyhound Racing
  • John Murphy Jr – Sterling Suffolk Racecourse
  • Charles Stefanini – Sterling Suffolk Racecourse
  • Robert White – Harrah’s Operating Company
  • Anthony Abdelahad (Ventry Group)
  • John Brennan (Brennan Group)
  • Lynda Bernard (Brennan Group)
  • Stephen Roche (Victory Group)
  • Paul Donovan – (Kearney Donovan & McGee)
  • Michelle McGee (Kearney Donovan & McGee)
  • Stephen Bowen
  • Gloria Craven – Nurses Unions
  • Stephen Finnegan – Insurance Companies
  • Martin Fisher Jr – Forba Holdings, Walmart
  • Charles Glick – Budget Lobbyist
  • Maureen Glynn – Airlines
  • William F Kennedy
  • Sean King – Budget Lobbyist
  • Glenn Koocher
  • Peter Larkin
  • Richard Lawless
  • Sean Morrisey – Ely Lilly, Google
  • Paul Pizzella
  • Jan Rose (ML Strategies) – Energy Companies
  • David Shapiro – Walmart
  • Shawn Sheehy – Motorboats
  • Lisa Simonetti
  • Joseph Timilty
  • Lynda Tocci – Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Walgreens, Xerox

That’s a lot of lobbyists. Too many to really delve into each one. But behind each lobbyist there are hundreds of stories of special interests trying to influence the legislature. There isn’t enough time to research every dirty little scandal behind these lobbyists. But a few things stand out.

Gambling Interests

In addition to the donations from Finneran and Flaherty who are tied to gambling interests, she is taking money from 4 other lobbyists from gambling interests, for a total of 6. I’m sure this must have an effect on her objectivity over the controversial casino gambling initiative. Four of the six have connections to the Suffolk downs race track.

Tobacco Interests

The other real stunner is how much money she takes from tobacco lobbyists. She’s taking money from three separate lobbyists from the tobacco industry. The tobacco companies have a long and complex list of legislative needs. Again too many to go into all of them, but here are a few from just this year:

H1283 – The tobacco protection from liability act. It would require that for a person to sue for liability from a defective product that they would have to prove that the damage was “proximately caused” by the product. This is to protect them from people who get cancer from cigarettes but can’t prove that the cigarettes cause the cancer.

H2054, S813 – This would restrict the sale of tobacco from pharmacies

H2076, H2106 – Would restrict the sale of flavored cigarettes, which are targeted at kids

H2162 – Prohibiting smoking within 25 feet from the entrances of public buildings

H2176, S905 – Exempting certain bars from the indoor smoking ban

H3475 – An act to ban smoking in cars with children

S802 – Would direct tobacco tax revenues to anti-smoking programs

S839 – Adding an ingredients list, and nicotine content, and toxicity information to tobacco packages.

These are the interests that Harkins is representing when she takes money from the tobacco lobby.

Forba Holdings

One lobbyist, Martin Fisher Jr’s main client is Forba Holdings. They are a dental company that serves poor children and is often paid through Medicaid, including in Massachusetts. But this year they were forced to make a $24 million dollar settlement with the Department of Justice for defrauding Medicaid.

They were performing medically unnecessary dental procedures on children in order pad their revenues:

“In this case, FORBA put greed and profits before the well-being of children,” said Timothy J. Heaphy, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. “It endangered the health and safety of innocent children and defrauded the taxpayer of millions of dollars.  Today’s settlement addresses these egregious acts and sends a clear message that Medicaid fraud will be expeditiously addressed by this Department”

Think about that. They were drilling into the teeth of poor children to extract Medicaid gold. The government got its money back. But all those children won’t get their teeth back. You can see why a company like this might need to start employing a lobbyist. What I don’t understand is why a legislator would take money from these people.

Lida Harkins Lobbyist Problem

Lida Harkins is one of the most prolific recipients of lobbyist money – and has been for years. We have an in depth story on the money she has received from lobbyists and PAC’s in years past. I’m sure if you spend time with her campaign finance documents you can find more dirty little secrets.

She has been a friend of tobacco lobbyists for years. And she gets money from every interest – banks, oil companies, drug companies, health insurers, gambling interests etc. In past years she has not faced a lot of contested races, and has spent most of the lobbyist’s money on restaurants and shopping.

This year, with a tough race, she’s probably spending more of it trying to restore her fading political future.

Democractic voters have a choice in the primary, between a progressive candidate who is very knowledgeable on the important health care issue, and who takes solid progressive positions. Or they can vote for a legislator who says the right things to the voters, but in the legislature is closely tied to a house power structure who has mismanaged the state for the benefit of special interests. A house which has produced three speakers in a row to go down in scandal, as she stood by as their top lietenant.

There is a practical choice for Democratic voters as well. This is a very Republican district. Whichever of these candidates wins the primary is going to have a tough time beating Richard Ross. If Smulowitz wins, Ross will run against a candidate with a campaign finance record as clean has Ross’s. ( I’ve checked – Ross doesn’t take lobbyist money – not ever ).  If Harkins wins, Ross will run against a candidate with one of the most tainted campaign finance records in the state.

I’m surprised Smulowitz hasn’t made Harkins dismal campaign finance records more of than issue. Taking money from indicted former speakers is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m even more surprised that Harkins engaged Smulowitz on the issue, given that she must know the entire truth is much much worse.

She may sound progressive on the campaign trail. But on Beacon Hill, Harkins is a tool of tobacco and gambling interests.

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