By Jesse Roman Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — Outside groups have spent heavily trying to influence the heated 6th Congressional District race, and Republican Richard Tisei has been the biggest beneficiary.
Super PACs, 501(c) groups and other outside groups have spent more than $3.5 million supporting Tisei or attacking Tierney in the 2012 campaign, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
By comparison, outside groups have spent about $1.6 million supporting Tierney and opposing Tisei.
The 6th District race, one of the nastiest and most hotly contested in the nation, also has the distinction of being the race with the most outside spending in Massachusetts, far outpacing even the tight U.S. Senate campaign between Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown.
So far, outside groups have spent a total of $5.16 million on the 6th District race, compared with $4.4 million in the high-profile race between Brown and Warren, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Outside spending in other U.S. House races in Massachusetts can be measured in the tens of thousands.
“It’s what we’ve been saying since the beginning: Republicans in Washington are hellbent on getting another vote in Congress to support their agenda. They are all too happy to support Richard Tisei,” said Matt Robison, Tierney’s campaign manager. “This is the group Richard Tisei has sold out to.”
Paul Moore, the campaign manager for Tisei, has a different take.
“I think people like to make investments in the person they think is going to win. That’s part of it,” he said.
Moore said he believes Tierney was poised to get more outside support initially but lost it because of repeated questions raised about the illegal gambling scandal involving his brothers-in-law and his wife, who managed a bank account for one of her brothers. Sensing a vulnerability, Republican groups jumped in and Democratic ones dropped out.
“The resources were there for both candidates during the summer,” Moore said, “but the way John Tierney handled himself this summer, you saw an erosion in his support.”
Robison strongly disagreed with the notion that Democratic support has eroded. The difference, he said, is that Republican groups have a lot more money to spend.
“As you can see in the (Federal Election Commission) reports, Democrats are willing and very clearly support John Tierney,” Robison said. “The issue here is the amount of money coming in from corporations and billionaires to right-wing Republicans in the wake of Citizens United. It’s absolutely staggering, and you’re seeing it across the country.”
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 paved the way for outside groups to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. The ruling has given rise to super PACs and 501(c) organizations, which amass huge amounts of money from individual and corporate donors and spend it on whatever they see fit. They are legally barred from coordinating with campaigns.
Tisei’s biggest outside contributors have been from the National Republican Congressional Committee ($1.55 million), the Young Guns super PACs ($923,000), the American Unity PAC ($519,000) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($400,000).
Tierney has received outside support from the National Education Association super PAC ($500,000), House Majority super PAC ($442,000), the Protect Our Schools Fund super PAC ($308,000) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($345,000).
Failed PAC agreement
During the summer, the Tierney and Tisei camps discussed signing a pledge similar to the one that Warren and Brown agreed to, aimed at limiting outside influence over the race. But talks broke down in June, and both sides blame the other.
When the Tierney campaign approached the Tisei camp in May about signing what’s known as “The People’s Pledge” banning independent expenditures, the Tisei camp “came back and said, ‘All right, not unless you agree to a whole bunch of conditions,’” Robison said.
“We agreed to all of them, but at 4 p.m. that day they sent out a press release to announce that, lo and behold, the discussions had fallen apart.”
Robison continued: “There was never any intention by Richard Tisei to keep outside money out, because his only path to victory was to use millions of dollars from right-wing groups outside of Massachusetts to lie and smear. That’s his idea of a campaign.”
Moore strongly disagrees with that version of the story.
Tisei had sent Tierney an earlier proposal with different options for limiting PAC spending and never received a response, Moore said.
Tisei later rejected “The People’s Pledge” barring super PAC money because he believed that Tierney, at the time, had a big advantage in outside fundraising and would not allow Tisei to catch up before signing the pledge.
“I wasn’t going to agree to something that would freeze us (in PAC contributions) when we were so far below them,” Moore said. “The goal was a level playing field; if there’s a level playing field, that’s all we can ask for.”
Robison said the Tierney camp did agree to let Tisei catch up in outside funding before barring all outside money. Moore said that’s not true, and that if Tierney had agreed to that condition, Tisei would have signed the pledge.
In addition to the super PACs, there are political action committees, or PACs, which donate directly to campaigns and have limits on how much they can contribute.
As of Oct. 17, Tierney had received about $734,000 from PACs, or 37 percent of his total campaign contributions. Tisei had accepted $253,000, which is 12 percent of his total, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.
The campaigns filed their last campaign finance reports before the Nov. 6 election last week. After losing the fundraising battle each of the last four quarters, Tierney bested Tisei — by a smidgen.
From Oct. 1 through 17, Tierney raised a little more than $140,000, while Tisei raised about $138,800, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
The two-week reporting window in October is the shortest reporting period of the election.
Tisei has Tierney beat when it comes to overall fundraising this election cycle, hauling in more than $2 million since he announced his candidacy in November; Tierney has raised about $1.97 million.
Tierney spent $430,000 in the first 17 days of this month, outpacing Tisei ($106,000) by a wide margin. The majority of the congressman’s expenditures (about $360,000) went to a Chicago-based media consultant.
Tierney has now spent about $2.1 million on his re-election campaign. Tisei has spent about $1.7 million to date. Tisei has $340,000 cash left in his coffers, while Tierney has about $130,000.
Libertarian candidate Daniel Fishman has raised a little more than $8,200 and spent about $6,200. Fishman has spent more than $6,000 of his own money financing his campaign, according to reports.